What does it mean to pursue success?

We’re part of a society in which chasing success is an assumed part of our lives. It’s ironically associated with freedom and liberty, in so far that we’re all free to pursue our own approximation of success. However, for most of us, success isn’t a fixed destination, and can in fact be a form of mental incarceration, promising only the same freedoms as those enjoyed by a hamster scurrying faithfully against the walls of a wheel. 

Because success as a destination, by its nature, is continuously evolving, birthing into new concepts, definitions and barometers. As humans, we habitually mystify the objects of our desire, especially those that appear perpetually beyond reach. So we decide that point B is the moment that’ll mark self-fulfilment, wherein we’ve accomplished everything we could hope for, cleansing us of our anxiety for ‘not making it’. But Point B quickly becomes Point C, and on and on. The mountain is forever climbing skywards.  

Many people pursuing their goals are susceptible to falling into this trap. When it comes to achieving our aspiration, we typically suffer from tunnel-vision. Goals that are over-obsessed consume us, to the extent that we’re unable to recognize the significance of individual moments along the way. Malcom Gladwell equated the singular moment of success (what is initially point B) as a tipping point, which is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. It’s the sudden transition from somebody pursuing success, to somebody who is successful and has ‘made it’. We imagine this as an instantaneous transition, as in the blinking of an eye from a moment of murky grey to a moment of vibrant colour.

But as anybody that has achieved their vision will tell you, learning to understand the pursuit of success is, ironically, instrumental to achieving it. Success isn’t about living for some unknown moment of the future that will see us become trouble-free, but for each contributory step and action.

Tragically, if we observe somebody scraping together the necessary groundwork for their dreams, whether through small savings or by developing their skills, we struggle to recognize success in the making. The personal accomplishments that are achieved when we remain steadfast through the mundane and repetitive are much harder to detect over their eventual accumulation, which still typically relies on an exposition of wealth.

Much of this difficulty owes to sociological expectations. We’re much more interested in the final result than we are the innumerable small accomplishments made in private, far from the spotlight. But pursuing success for others isn’t the same as doing it for yourself. Of course, wealth and esteem are attached to it, but ultimately entrepreneurial individuals are bound by a ‘need’ to excel, which can exist with or without the material gain. If we treat success as a photographic moment (a turning point), we risk neglecting the three seconds before and three seconds after. Wouldn’t life be a lot more honest if all moments were captured across a wider time margin?

Taking a step back and viewing your overall goals is naturally important, but the end-result of success should exist on the periphery of the present moment, rather than occupying it. It is the action taken now, today, that cements the building blocks and keeps you grounded, free from the endless pursuit of success as an ephemeral destination.