How Do You Measure Success?

Our frustrated friend was pulling weeds and not having a good time. She would pull a dandelion and the root would break off. She knew that from the fraction of a root a new weed would grow. She felt like a failure each time she pulled and failed to get the whole root. With that perspective, she didn’t like to pull weeds and would tend to avoid doing it. As the dandelions continued to grow, her lawn became a reminder to her that she was a person prone to failure. Worse than that, it supported her tendency to label herself as a failure.

Our friend had made an enemy out of a plant that has evolved over millions of years to propagate and persist in open grassy spaces. Its root is supposed to break off when some beast tries to uproot it. Her failure to capture the whole root was natural, and from the point of view of the plant, the way it should be. She had defined her failure based on unrealistic expectations.

Another friend said recently, “We depressed people tend to have a broad definition of failure and a narrow definition of success.” If I pull a weed and the root breaks off, I have failed. That’s a broad definition of failure. If your definition of success is that there are no more dandelions growing in my yard and none will grow back, that’s a narrow definition of success, and good luck with that.

If we are going to play the game of success vs. failure, we had best define the rules realistically. Wouldn’t life be more fun if we could have a broader definition of success? If your idea of success is impossible to attain, you will probably give up. On the other hand, if your definition of success is too broad, you may lose interest in the game. It is a game after all.

If we want to, we can step out of the game. We can recognize that our definitions of success and failure are made up.  There is no absolute need to have a weed free lawn. It may be a cultural norm in some places, but it is not an unvarying rule. There is no rule that one has to have a lot of money or have a certain body shape or be famous. Some people define success in those ways. It’s a choice.  At least it is a choice if one is conscious that one is choosing.

What would it be like to live without defining success or failure? What would your life be like if you lived beyond those definitions?

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© 2009 Tom Barrett