One goal that most everybody shares is to be successful. But what does that even mean? In some cultures, success has a very definite meaning. They have established responsibilities for most members of society and as long as an individual meets those responsibilities, he is considered successful. In the US, however, success has many different meanings, and those meanings have changed significantly over the years.
Even the Webster’s dictionary has significantly changed the definition of success over the years. In 1806, the term success was defined as “…being generous, prosperous, healthy, and kind.” Today, the definition reads ” the attainment of wealth, fame and rank.” Those are quite different concepts, but are quite reflective of how American society has developed, for better or for worse.
The most interesting change in the definition of success is found in the first words. 200 years ago, the definition had to do with who and how a person was…”being” prosperous, generous, and kind. Now, the focus is on what you have…”the attainment of”. The distinction is important, and probably an indication of how far we have strayed from focusing on our own values over material possessions.
The state of big business in the US displays this shift in a great many of its dealings. The ethically corroded business environment that allow MLMs, scammers, and even recommending outsourcing for personal profit is the same one that blasts us with propaganda about incurring debt to buy more and more stuff. It is the same one that played the starring role in the current economic disaster, and it’s the same one that is relegating millions of Americans to a life of paycheck to paycheck survival. According to media portrayals and marketing messages, success no longer has anything to do with who you are, but rests solely on what you have.
Though the Webster’s definition reflects society in general, for individuals success can still have many different meanings. For some, banking large sums of money is the sign of success. For others, being able to what they want, when they want, is the goal. Still others bank their success on how they affect other people and the world at large. And, of course, there are many who will remain in the cycle of debt because their definition of success is based on what they have right now.
One benefit of the current economic mess is that more and more Americans are taking a long, hard look at their lives and trying to define what is really important. The key is to define success for yourself and make the changes necessary to live that life. Don’t buy in to the hype…what you want out of life is far more important than what big business and banks tell you to want. And, you will find far more satisfaction in taking control of every area of your own life.