When you ask your friends or even search for it on the Internet, you will get logically holistic answers to the meaning of success.

It will be all about being happy with what you do, who you are as a person, about your place in society, about being altruistic and helpful for others.

And that is great; however, we don’t always walk that talk.

In fact, it seems to me that the meaning of success is one of those innate concepts we know, deep down, is to be and do whatever makes us truly happy. But we do not necessarily, outwardly, behave that way.

How do we, then, measure that success?

Who Do We Admire?

When we say we want to do pursue something, even a hobby, we are directed to observe the people who have made it big in that particular area, as if that is the measurement of success of any worthy pursuit. Which, I suppose, in our achievement-oriented world can’t be any other way.

We praise the individuals who have made it big, in their profession or otherwise. Exacerbated by social media and the neverending connectedness, we look up to them. Our children look up to them.

You’ve probably noticed, but ask your children who the people are that they admire most? It will probably be a celebrity of some kind, perhaps a scientist, a writer, or more likely these days, a Youtuber, but always someone out there, someone big. Is the meaning, the measurement of success?

What happened to the times when we looked up to our teachers, our grandparents, our coaches, and neighbors as role models or mentors?

The Story of Walter

A few nights ago, I read a cute story in rhyme to my daughter called Walter’s Planet, published by Random House.

It rhymes and flows perfectly, the pictures are great—obviously a high-quality book.
Except…
In the beginning, we learn about a strange boy Walter, who goes around on his own collecting scraps of this and that and then shuts himself in his room for hours and days doing something with it.

Young Walter
“unlike other boys,
Didn’t seem interested
In Playing with toys.”

This worried his parents and those around him.
“His very behavior caused them despair
Whatever could Walter
Be doing up there?”

It turns out Walter was building a telescope, and then he used it to discover a planet. The planet was named after him, and he became a huge success making his parents relieved and happy. He even made some friends to play with.

Oh, man, it made me so angry. It had hit a nerve; probably because as a child, I would rather have spent hours reading or writing stories in my room than playing with other kids. But mostly, I just hid what I was doing because…well… it just wasn’t what successful children did.

While this story seems to be just a fun book to read to your child before bed, its definition of success stays somewhere ingrained in us, despite our inner beliefs about the meaning of success.

Do you have to discover an entire planet to be successful?

But moving on from the story of Walter, I wonder if I unwittingly impart that belief into my children.

So, What Is the Meaning of Success?

I don’t want my children to think they have to make it big (publicly!) to feel successful.
I don’t want them to think they can’t pursue an interest because they will not make it a profession and earn (big) money off of it.

My son started learning piano 2 years ago, and my mother asked: “What is he doing that for?”
“To learn,” I said, “because he wants to, and he enjoys it.”
She shook her head: “But what is he going to do with that? He has to be really talented to be a concert pianist, and as far as I know, we have no musical talents in our family.”
So, wait, unless he will be at the top of the game, it isn’t even worth pursuing an interest?

I hate to blame my mother because it is such a cliche (and she means well), but no wonder that as a child and young adult (and I hate to admit, even later), I chose to hide most of my hobbies, interests, and pursuits.

boy playing piano, girl dancing, the meaning of success
My son enjoys playing and his sister loves to dance to his music

I want my children to believe, truly, not to struggle as I did (still do!), that doing something you like doing, whether you are paid for it or not, whether you are famous for it or not, as long as it makes you happy, is completely fine.

  • Be it reading romance novels
  • Or gardening
  • Or knitting
  • Or scrapbooking
  • Or salsa dancing even if you aren’t very good at it

I want them to know that the story of little Walter would be just as good if his parents took some interest in his pursuit, encouraged him, went to collect scraps with him maybe. And even if he did build a telescope that did not work at all, it would have been a story worth telling. And rhyming.

By passionately pursuing his interests, Walter would be a success already.

Read This Beautiful Story about the Meaning of Success

Recently I read this anecdote told by Kurt Vonnegut in a letter to Xavier High School, and this is exactly what I want to instill into my children:

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break, and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject?

And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes. And he went WOW. That’s amazing!

And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.” And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before:

“I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them.

I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

Kurt Vonnegut
Practice any art not to get any money or fame but to experience becoming!

24 Comments

  1. Bas kako treba biti 🙂

  2. I love that Kurt Vonnegut quote – it’s so insightful and important. Such a good reminder to do things because we enjoy them. Great post.

  3. I absolutely adore this post. Success means so many different things to so many different people.

  4. When I was young, I thought success was having a lot of money. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it’s happiness.

  5. There are so many definitions of success. I know I’ll feel like a success if my kids grow up to be humble, kind, and giving.

  6. Most people define success as a place in society, the amount of money you are earning, or the luxury things that you have. Like you, for me, success is something that makes me happy, and seeing my kids growing as good people is a huge success for me as a parent.

  7. I believe that you’ve found true success when your soul is happy. That’s the real definition.

  8. Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming

  9. That’s a fantastic quote. I think being successful isn’t necessarily just riches and status.

  10. As long as it makes them happy – yes, that is a great definition of personal success, I think. It is more important to teach them, and ourselves to value our love and passion, than monetary or social pressures of what success is “supposed” to be. Blessings!

  11. I love how you put this. I think it’s important not to tell our kids that they have to be a certain person or have a certain job to feel like a success.

  12. I think we all have different views of success. I think it’s what makes you feel free and fulfilled at the same time.

  13. Personally, I believe success is what you make it! In all it’s sizes or strength or varieties….it’s all success!

  14. I think success depends on the person. It can be subjective. It depends on what makes you happy and satisfied.

  15. You’ve certainly made me think about my own definitely of success. I love the story about doing something without the sole purpose being to be the best at it. That one really struck a note with me. If it something that makes us happy, it shouldn’t matter how good at it that we are. This was a thought-provoking post, Stella!

  16. success is so much to me. there are different ways to be successful but for me it’s mostly being happy

  17. What a good post and allows time to reflect too. I think peoples success can change over time. some people think money others believe knowing self is successful, so it really depends on the individual x

  18. What an absolutely adorable picture of your children! It’s so lovely that you are taking a step back and thinking about the meaning of success, thereby imparting a more considered view on them. It can be so challenging to live in a culture that’s constantly striving for more fame and fortune, when those things aren’t the most important ones at all.

  19. It’s good to have role models at times but the kids shouldn’t be overwhelmed seeing them. They should be taken as just examples that hard work pays. Success is really not about money and I so much agree. Very soul searching post. Loved it.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much, appreciate it and glad it resonated with you.

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