Success is easily associated with hitting the many milestones that society carves out for us the minute we are born.

We want our children to be ahead of the curve — to be walking before they are crawling. To be talking and learning languages before their peers. To have a headstart before we send them off to mainstream schools. Where the next rat race begins. The system is set up such that success invariably means doing better than the kid next to you. We learn from a young age (reinforced by everyone around us) that the world is a stage where we compete. And if we fall behind, we fail. If our kids fall behind, we fail as parents.

The rules of this ‘game’ seems pretty clear throughout our formal education years. Success perhaps means getting good grades and getting a good job that brings your wealth and status. And if you squeeze in a hobby or two, make sure you excel at that too! We take on jobs with the intention of scaling up the ladder and in gaining prominence in our field of work. Of course the type of jobs we land up in is also tiered and valued according to the perceived barriers of entry to the profession. The harder you have to work to get accepted into a field, the more pride you yield from having made it. You’ve worked your ass off to become a doctor? You’ve scaled the ladder to lead a large team that clocked the best sales? You earn a 5 figure salary? Well done. You have succeeded.

It is hard to mask the cynicism I feel, not because I don’t see value in these benchmarks of success. I do. I have lived most of my life subscribing and aspiring towards these same goals — but at some point, don’t we all stop and think about broadening this definition a little bit more? I am sure we have all been in situations in life where we’ve been tempted to take a detour from our narratives of success and felt burdened with guilt or a sense of failure for thinking as such. Why do we feel crushed when our lives don’t match up with our peers — from the size of our homes, to the lifestyle we are able to afford, to the promotions we get… right down to perhaps the number of likes on our social media handles. Is it possible to measure success without any yardstick, without any competition?

What if we start to embrace these other definitions of success too?

Wisdom to discern.

For us to have the ability to detect and seize opportunities presented to us that is meant for our growth…even if the opportunity looks like a wild risk.

For us to be in tune with our intuition and heart without prejudice to what’s perceived as better or worse in our society. To listen to the silent whispers within instead of being silenced by the world’s noise.

Complete abandonment and surrender.

For us to have clarity of thought and action once we have discerned what we want to dedicate our energies to. From joining a rock band, building a business, retreating to the mountains, being a parent, to anything that we set our heart on, to have the freedom to do it with total involvement and focus.

Something that I am still grappling with — is it really possible to devote one’s energies to multiple projects/roles at the same time? Can we have the cake and eat it? Perhaps this goes back to our ability to discern if what we’re accepting into our plate can indeed be given the due attention and focus that it deserves. There are core projects and there are one-off ventures or commitments that don’t necessarily add value to our life. Know when to cut off these frills and to say No. With time, we get better at weeding away at our own plate of “to-dos” and realise that stripping our sense of purpose down to its core helps us in the process of filtering what we let into our lives.

To be content AND driven

Restlessness and competition need not drive success. Why can’t satisfaction and contentment coexist with having drive, passion and ambition? If we are fuelled by our sense of purpose rather than competition, we benefit from inner contentment and calm, regardless of the variables around us that are not within our control. Stock markets can crash, we may make poor investments and lose money, we may be laid off our jobs, other bad things can happen…but we can be cushioned from these “failures” if our sense of self is anchored in our purpose and not in the fleeting identities that we attach ourselves to.

I now look at the world very differently from how I was conditioned to view success. I see success in the child who looks forward to art classes even though his artwork never gets picked, in the student who stays up to research on a topic of interest out of sheer curiosity, in the graduate who decides to take a gap year to travel the world, in the person who decides to quit their stable job and start a business (regardless of whether the business succeeds), in the person who hears feedback and takes it to heart without self pity and blaming others, in the earnestness in which one seeks oneness and truth in all that he pursues …

The more we are able to train our eyes to see different versions of success, the more compassionate and accepting we become of the myriad of ways that one can thrive in.

What are your definitions of success and how have they changed over time?

Social Worker. Bharathanatyam Dancer. Curator of Nodes to Note. Words give clarity to her mind and capture life’s fleeting moments.