December 5, 2021

Success is In The Eye Of The Beholder

From a very early age, we are "programmed" for success. Schools and parents teach us what they believe are the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the world. Our mastering of those tasks was measured with a grading system that clearly defined our progress. 

Religions have rules for keeping us on the straight and narrow to help ensure our passage into an eternal life filled with joy and love. Where we worked certainly had clearly laid out paths to success within the organization. Stay on task you will do well. Falter and you may be replaced was the clear message given to us all.

Running your own business had the measurement of achievement: money. Make enough and you succeed. Spend more than you make and fail.

Notice anything obvious about these parameters that attempt to measure success? They all come from external sources. Your performance is judged by someone else, using very different determinations.

Some are within your control, but many are not. You are judged by another person or system that is independent of your skills and talents, wants, and needs.

If nothing else, retirement frees you from this cycle of judgement, imposed on you by others. Now, what qualifies as success is defined by you. Being unique means quite simply: only you know what success feels like.

In fact, the whole idea of success in retirement is so singular that I can't offer my opinions or thoughts on the subject. So, I found a list from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  All the things on his list are not likely to fit your needs.

What if might do, though, is prompt you into some serious contemplation about yourself and feeling worthy and complete. Are you still allowing others to build a box that you are being urged to inhabit?

Consider the following:

 What is Success?

  1. To laugh often and much;
  2. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
  3. To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
  4. To appreciate beauty;
  5. To find the best in others;
  6. To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
  7. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived

Rather than external markers, this list, and any you generate measures success in life using your ruler, your measuring device,  your sense of completeness and accomplishment.

Think about it.


  1. From the time someone said "you are living the life of luxury", I have built my own box. Retiring at 58 and drawing from my hard earned savings from many decades of working 55-80 hours a week is hardly luxury.

    I stand with Emerson and his list to which I aspire most days.

    Live, Laugh, Love. The 3 L's :-)

    1. I thought this post was a natural followup to the satisfaction one. Internal guidelines are always preferable to those that come from others.

      Some may think I was not very successful because I had to shut down my business and was forced into retirement much earlier than I had planned.

      I take the view that we had enough to stop when we did, are about to begin our 21st year of retirement and have more money in our investments than we did in 2001.

      I am quite satisfied.

  2. Happiness, a much better measure of personal success than cash at the bank. Isn’t it New Zealand that is supposed to be placing emphasis on the well being of its citizens rather than simply the hamster wheel of GDP for policy purposes. I’d go with that any day.

    1. New Zealand's "well-being" budget prioritizes personal happiness over just GNP measurements of success.
      What a civilized, unique approach for a government to adopt.

      Happiness does not require a certain level of monetary success. In fact, studies continue to point out that past a certain point, money has the opposite effect.

  3. Marvelous post. I'm reminded of psychologist Erik Erikson's description of the eighth (and last) stage of life—which he called "integrity"—when we are freed from the life of "triumphs and disappointments" to enjoy "comradeship with the ordering ways of distant times and different pursuits."

    1. Thank you, Goodly. It isn't very often my words remind someone of a well-known psychologist.

      Spending whatever time we have before us focused on the things that really matter would be the mark of a mature human being.

  4. Hi Bob!!!! You have found new topics to think about. My personal point of view about success is that it is very, very personal. What is special for someone can be very different for another person. I think I am a successsful person because I have a wonderful family that makes me feel happy and a healhty life.

    1. I agree completely. Public definition of success usually fall quite short. As you say, our unique assessment of whether we are meeting our goals is the only important one.

  5. Hi Bob! Thank you for that GREAT list from Emerson. In fact, I first read it in high school and cut it out and kept it all these years. I do my best to live by it as much as possible...just having it as an intention is powerful. Thanks again. ~Kathy

    1. I have never read a more on-target definition of success for me. It is really a secular version of the Ten Commandments.

  6. The only thing I would add to Emerson's list is what I was taught from an early age: "Take less than you are entitled to, give more than you are required to."

    Rick in Oregon