I came across this passage yesterday in Jordan B. Peterson’s book, ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’.
“Why refuse to specify? Because while you are failing to define success (and thereby rendering it impossible), you are also refusing to define failure, to yourself, so that if and when you fail you won’t notice, and it won’t hurt. But that won’t work! You cannot be fooled so easily — unless you have gone very far down the road! You will instead carry with you a continual sense of disappointment in your own Being and the self-contempt that comes along with that and the increasing hatred for the world that all of that generates (or degenerates).”
I found this incredibly compelling reading as, while yes, I set myself goals, I have failed to define what success (or failure) looks like to me. If I haven’t set my endpoint, how can I begin my journey without knowing which direction to walk in (success) or which direction to avoid (failure)? The obvious answer is, I can’t.
I believe that our second mistake is rather stupidly fooling ourselves into believing that there is some end point for us to reach. This quote from Jordan B. Peterson I think sums it up rather neatly.
“Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting the at the next peak.”
Happiness and success are intertwined. Many believe that being successful on their own terms will make them happy; I think the opposite is true, you’re successful if you’re truly content with your life.
If happiness is found in the pursuit of success, in the journey uphill, what should we set our focus on?
I believe the answer to be meaningful work.
To which you may ask, well, what qualifies as meaningful work?
This is of course, for most, a particularly hard question to answer. I believe that waking up with determination and going to bed with satisfaction is a good place to start.
I believe it to be of the uttermost importance to define what success looks like to us, but I think it’s equally as important to remember that the answer shouldn’t be an endpoint. You should be describing success as a journey, as something that’s always in motion and moving, not as Peterson puts it “in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting the at the next peak.”
Defining failure is less attractive, but perhaps even more critical. If you haven’t got an answer for your own definition of success, try just defining what failure looks like, and head in the opposite direction.
Peterson went on in the book to exam the differences between successful and unsuccessful people and concluded that the successful among us use delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. They believe that something better might be attained in the future by giving up something of value in the present. The difference therefore between the successful and the unsuccessful is that the successful sacrifice.
If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present, you can change the structure of reality in your favour.
Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient.