I was once asked in an interview what my definition of success is. I fed the interviewer exactly what he wanted to hear and got a job offer out of the interview, but I turned it down, because while I knew I had answered the question correctly according to him, I also knew I had lied to myself.
My definition of success has changed over time as I've grown older and wiser. As I was a teenager, success for me was getting nice clothes and a cool car to drive and flirting with as many girls as possible. To acheive this, I got a job at the mall to get a discount on the clothes and save up to buy myself a Jeep Wrangler. It was enjoyable and I have fond memories of those times, but once I achieved my goal, I was still left with a feeling of want thinking, "Is this it"? For most americans, this is still the guage by which they judge success. How does one dress, and what car do they drive. Its amazing how important this is even to rather enlightened individuals.
As I went to college my priorities changed and success was no longer material, but was based on the intellectual. I stopped caring about looking good for the sake of looking good, and I didn't care to drive in a college town. As my clothes grew old, I did not replace them, and got rid of my vehicle as it became a bigger burden than a luxury. Instead of "succeeding" in appearence, I decided to succeed mentally and I focused my attention to intellectual pursuits, learning as much as I could. Course work was useful, but I often found myself ignoring my coursework to delve deeper into my particular interests. I studied well above and beyond the expectations of my college cirriculum, though my effort toward the convential coursework often suffered for it.
As college came to a close, my priorities began to change once again, and instead of intellectual pursuits, success became defined as experience. I heard a quote once when I was a young boy that stuck with me ever since, "Trouble brings experience, experience brings wisdom". I began to value all experience as important to achieving success. I made friends, made enemies, partied, fasted, explored the world, lived abroad for a year in a country where I couldn't speak the language, learned a new language, learned martial arts, broke my leg, applied for grad school, published papers, presented at conferences, worked toward my skydiving certification, learned to hunt, got married, got a dog, had a kid, bought a house, spent money, saved money, and the list goes on. I grew a lot during this time and have had quite a bit of experience and would be successful by many peoples' measure. And it is very satisfying. However, now that I'm here, I have the same feeling of, "this is it?"
This had led me to redefine success yet again as the mastery of the will. Everyday, there are influences acting upon you that attempt to incite particular behaviors. While it feels like you are choosing to do them of your own volition, the fact is you are making your choice based on the influences of others. Sometimes, the behavior is automatic and choice does not play a role at all. My experiences have led me to believe that true success is mastering my own will; that is consciously acting of my own intentions based on rationality and my personal needs, rather than desires imparted on me by others. This is incredibly difficult and having worked on this for years, I have only made incremental improvements. While I am yet undecided about whether we actually have free will or not, I'm willing to operate under the assumption that we do have the capability for it. That capability however needs to be exercised just like any other mental capacity in order to be effective. Instead of acting on autopilot one should strive to act consciously and correctly. It means resisting the doughnut at work, and the frozen pizza for dinner. It means not impulsively having sex or masturbating. It means not buying the newest gadget or the candy bar at the check-out isle. It means staying in shape and in good health. It means overcoming convenience. In my exercises toward mastering the will, it has become apparent to me how out of touch people are with their own minds and bodies.
Mastering the will can take many forms. Your will may be to become rich, or to gain knowledge, or gain experience, but to do so consciously and controlled is a difficult task. My definition of success will continue to evolve and once I master the will, I suppose the next step would be to purify the will and make your will meritorious. Once you learn to master it, you realize that becoming rich isn't a worthy goal and you can let it go in pursuit of higher goals. I think many people (though a small percentage of people overall) figure out how to master the will. Very few people purify the will to be worthy of mastery. These are the people who change the world for the better.
What is your definition of success?