Suppose an athlete – let’s call her Patty - achieves a personal best time, but doesn’t win the medal. Should Personal Best Patty feel successful?
Suppose a kid – let’s call him Harry – is getting C’s in school. Then one day, thanks to some extra hard work, he gets a B. He feels great about it! Should Hardworking Harry feel successful?
Success often feels exclusive. The winner seems successful; the losers don’t. The CEO’s, the team captains, and the pop stars seem to have “risen above” the line workers, the teammates, and the starving artists. In some way or another, the best of us are separated from the rest of us. But something doesn't feel right about this view of the world.
Of course it would feel great to be the best, but if Personal Best Patty (who didn’t win the medal) and Hardworking Harry (who didn’t earn the top grade) don’t get to feel the reward of personal success, it doesn’t seem like there’s much hope for most of us. After all, there’s only so much room at the top. Are the Patty’s and Harry’s of the world destined to be failures forever?
But what about the people who are at the top?
Suppose a singer - let’s call him Tim – wins the world’s grand singing prize (if such a prize exists). But, Tim knows that he didn't really practice as much as he could have, and even though he won, he didn't put on his best performance. Should Talented Tim feel successful? He’s at the top of his game, but he fell short of his personal potential.
On the other hand, if Talented Tim doesn’t get to feel the pride of success, it seems like the standards for success just went even higher. Not only do we have to win the grand prize, but we have to achieve our potential too?
But maybe we’re playing the wrong game here. It seems like success ought to be contrasted against something, but what should that something be? Other people’s performance? Our personal potential? Standards imposed by the teacher? Perhaps the comparison game is the wrong game altogether? Who is making the rules here anyway?
Maybe the first step towards finding success is deciding on who’s setting the rules of the game. Who decides the criteria for success? I suppose I can’t be sure where to find that rule-maker, but it seems like a mirror would be a good place to start the search.