Success ≠ Material Wealth

A post by Joshua Becker, “Stop chasing success, seek significance” (, is circulating on Facebook and while many people will be quick to nod their heads and agree, I would like to somewhat disagree.

The first thing his post reminded me of was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I read this book over and over again after my second year (grade 10) high school teacher recommended it as a reading for a Religion class.

This is so existentialist. We find meaning through the things we choose to do of our own free will–not because others say so, not because we choose to do what is right or wrong or good or bad, but because it gives us meaning. What is meaningful is what is significant. Can we say that seeking success and happiness are insignificant? That would be judging others who find the most meaning in success the way Joshua Becker defines it. Yet, success is not always defined by financial standards. This is the sad legacy of a materialistic culture. What we need to do is to redefine success, to change the connotation of success so it does not equate to material wealth.

I achieve success, for instance, as a writing coach, when I am able to nurture a mentee and guide him or her towards writing, when I am able to help writers overcome writing blocks, when I am able to help writers improve their craft, when I am able to help them become confident in their craft, when I am able to help them achieve their goals. To see those results is an affirmation that what I am doing is right and good because it empowers and enables others. That is only one of my successes.

Perhaps people have to go back to the actual meaning of success: the achievement of a goal or purpose. We should also think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We shouldn’t denigrate anyone whose level of success is not at the pinnacle of human needs. After all, it is not everyone who can think of higher-level needs before they overcome even the most basic physiological needs and the need for safety and belonging. For many people, that is the extent of their needs and, therefore, the extent of their success. Self-realization and self-actualization usually happens after all the other needs have been satisfied, simply because we are freed from those cares and therefore free to actualize ourselves. I am wary and leery of anyone who is quick to define things in black and white because there are easily 8 billion shades of gray in this world.

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