This begins a series of posts on success. I really don’t know how many posts this series would entail and thought I would develop the series spontaneously. Let’s start off in understanding what success is.
Most of us define success through external achievements – a flourishing career, a house, a car, a partner, children, recognition in society because of our contributions, awards, wealth in the form of properties and money and so on. But we all know the ephemeral nature of these types of ‘success’. They don’t last. Nor do they bring us the deep contentment that we so badly yearn for. They give us a ‘kick’ for the time being and we are soon left looking for the next dose of this ‘success’ to get us the high. Clearly this is not a wise way to live life.
According to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, a happy life was a virtuous life. Contentment and serenity come about by doing the right thing and by aligning our external actions with our inner nature. For the Stoics, the Eudaimon life was seen as the ultimate goal. Eudaimonia is often translated as happiness, but is more accurately something closer to ‘well being’. With ‘well being’ as the aim, virtue was seen as the way towards this. What then is virtue?
Virtue often comes with a lot off stuffy Victorian baggage. It seems old fashioned. It goes against the principles of being free and unfettered by moral conventions. It is important to recognize that virtues simply means excellence (from the Greek word aretê). Excellence in what? Excellence in our inner selves. Becoming the better version of ourselves. Therefore the Stoics knew that true happiness or well being is obtained when we work internally to become the better version of ourselves.
And this is the key lesson here: success is defined internally and never externally. External success is always in comparison to the society. You gain a million dollars and feel proud, but are deflated when you realize that your cousin has two million dollars. This comparative definition of success always leaves us wanting for more. However when we are align ourselves to our inner selves and work towards constantly improving it, success can come about.
But what is this illusive inner self?
To begin to understand this we need to understand what values are. What makes us unique? What are our true inner callings? We examine this in the next post.