Who Gets to Define What Success Is?

We’re comparing as if it were apples to apples and forgetting all about the oranges.

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Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash
Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

We’re living in an age where it’s never been easier to compare ourselves to others. Go on social media and it abounds. Profiles and posts of those we think are succeeding in this big, messy game of life. Job titles, fancy trips, perfect bodies, everything just so.

We don’t see posts of dishes in the sink or credit card statements because that would ruin the facade. What we’re seeing is a highlight reel, a carefully curated version of reality that isn’t reality at all. Yet even when we remind ourselves of this, we still feel bad for not measuring up.

According to Merriam-Webster, success is the “degree or measure of succeeding favorable or desired outcome”.

Nothing in that definition mentions success as comparison to another.

So why do we do this constant comparison? Defining success as if there’s one desired outcome that we all must subscribe to? I didn’t get that memo, did you?

I once knew a woman who called herself an overachiever and told me her impressive accomplishments. They certainly were, but again, lets take a moment to review the dictionary. An overachiever is “one who achieves success over and above the standard or expected level”.

The standard or expected level? Are they the same for all of us? I don’t think so.

One of the harsh realities of life is that we aren’t living on an even playing field. There are people with more opportunities and privilege than others and many have been dealt really crummy cards in life.

Is the man who went to Harvard an overachiever compared to a woman who overcame poverty by going to school at night while working full-time and raising a family? Is a millionaire an overachiever compared to someone who survived a disease by spending his or her life savings on medical bills?

We’re comparing as if it were apples to apples and forgetting all about the oranges.

When someone says they’re an overachiever, it really just means that they’ve achieved more than they expected for themselves. They’ve gone above and beyond their own definition of success. That is fantastic – for them.

It does not mean my or your definition has to be the same as theirs. And it does not mean they’re more successful than you or me because no one else has lived in our shoes and the definitions are individual to each of us.

So define it as you wish and know that success isn’t something that can always be quantified. Sometimes it’s just being able to look at highlight reels on social media and not feel bad about yourself.

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