I pulled this question out of my new “wordsmith” deck of writing prompts. I thought I should write and post something and so here I am with a coffee and an iPad.
I feel like “define success” in various iterations, is one of those things you’re supposed to be able to do a ‘call and response’ with. It shouldn’t need that much thought because it’s been drilled into you exactly what it means from a young age.
“What is success?” someone must shout, whilst you must retort with something platitiduinal (is that a word?) like “it’s a journey, not a destination.”
And that’s not an incorrect statement, but it is – for me at least – an unhelpful one, I think, without further nuance. And I’m sure I can’t be alone. In fact, I feel a bit like my closest relative might be a Sat Nav.
I’m competitive (I want to get there the fastest way possible), I’m goal-driven (tell me if you want me to avoid motorways) and need to know where I’m currently aiming to end up (try using a sat nav without setting the destination).
So I guess the response to “define success”, when it’s shouted out, should be something like “success is a series of destinations on a journey you have no choice but to make, each of which will slowly influence the final destination a tiny bit perhaps and almost certainly the battery will go and you’ll end up needing to be permanently plugged in to function.”
That is less snappy, in fairness. But it’s also true. As I look back over my last 10 years the answer to “what is success?” in some areas of my life – particularly work – has changed repeatedly, based on where I’ve been when I’ve asked.
I’ve reached it in some areas of my life, while others have suffered from a lack of attention as a result (and stood languishing not in “success”). In some areas, it’s become a joint journey rather than a lone, long drive. But whenever I’ve arrived at success, like a sat nav, I’ve found myself thinking “New destination?”
Chris Evans may have become an unintentional philosopher in explaining this when he left Radio 2.
“I’m going to leave. I’m leaving Radio 2,” he told listeners, but promised he’d stay on air until Christmas.
Explaining the decision, he said: “Some of us are mountain climbers [but] if you get to the top of your favourite mountain and you stay there, you become an observer.
“I want to keep climbing.”
So while it’s really tempting to give closure and say that success is something that can be defined in things or feelings or emotions, I’m going to take a “cop out”.
Success, to me, is knowing what your current destination is and what you’re doing to do when you get there. It’s having the flex to pick your own destination, to discuss it with the person you’re sharing it with, and to be able to keep track on your progress.
And a new one for me, and one that might shock you if you know me in reality: success is, I think, having the time to stop, and sit, and quietly enjoy where you’ve got to so far (perhaps in companionable silence – my new favourite phrase).