The Definition of Success

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A short intro on the topic of success came to mind today – A more extensive overview will follow.
To tickle the mind even before we begin; two quotes on “success”:

“The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” – Dale Carnegie

“Most successful men have not achieved their distinction by having some new talent or opportunity presented to them. They have developed the opportunity that was at hand.” – Bruce Barton

It seems like everywhere on the Web the word “success” is found.We see it in more than one headline, forum entry, Facebook post, Twitter tweet, blog entry and all other online media pages. Surely enough this isn’t something surprising to anyone. On TV, the news, in movies, in everyday life “success” comes to mind. When we hear celebrity, philanthropist, corporation, VIP, élite, upper class, management, and/or other words that entail fame, fortune, power and a societal definition of awe towards particular individuals’ achievements, bells go off and ring to the ear “success”.
It is also certain that someone is shaking their head “No” this very instant and defining “success” as subjective and an opinion. The flip side of the coin to this word is that some define “success” as being in the beholder’s eyes; the beholder being the individual that is leading his/her own life.

This side of the story holds true that to succeed in something one merely needs to accomplish his/her set goals. As long as what they long for in life or desire is achieved, to them, they have achieved “success”. On the other hand the former definition of “success” is held by external factors, people, by society and other groups at large.
In this introduction to the two fold nature of “success”, the definition of it should also be included. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “success” is defined as:
1 obsolete: outcome, result
2 a: degree or measure of succeeding
b: favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence
3: one that succeeds

From the passing of definition number 1 as obsolete, we can note how at one point in time “success” was related to outcome and result. It would be interesting to linguistically find out how this definition came to pass. The first thing to cross the mind is evolution. Outcome and result evolving from something simple and attached to an action or situation, to something material and tangibly visible to the world, such as media coverage, world and/or international fame. Research will follow, but if any ideas come to mind, please do share!

Definition number 2a is not even a definition according to an English professor once known to me. He stated that a word’s definition should not include the same word it is defining. However, if we want to expand on it, the statement defines “success” as a degree or measure of what desired object or end one has obtained, as well as a degree or measure of something that turns out well (these two definitions of the word succeeding also come from Merriam-Webster Dictionary and are only definition number and 2b).
Definition number 2b states that “success” is a favorable (preferred) or desired (wished for) outcome (result). It is also the attainment (achievement) of wealth, favor, or eminence (when someone is prominent, superior, stands out, leads, to name a few words in reference to eminence).
Definition 3 is pretty obvious: someone who “succeeds” linking it back to definition since the definition given of “succeeding” came from the definition of “succeed”.

On the basis of these definitions alone, it seems that “success” can be and is defined by both external factors, of which most likely society plays the biggest role, or by the individual themselves. A link to an argument found on how “success” is defined by society and others, as well as a discourse against life coaches is found on J. Erich Smith’s blog; while an opposing argument is made on Sean Ogle’s blog.

What I would like to know is what you and others think about “success”? Is there only one right answer?
I look forward to comments and ideas for those who wish to share them and have the time.



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