This question – “Why is success so important in life?” had been haunting me for quite some time. The more I used to think about it, the more I used to get confused. So then I thought I will ask my friends and other people about it. I did do that and got interesting replies in return – a gist of which will be shared shortly – but before that I will share the story of the Pepsodent toothpaste ad which goes as follows.
A small kid is walking dejected and enters the school bus going back to home. His friend asks him, “What happened?” he replies, “Main fail ho gaya (I failed)”. His friend asks for details, he says, Pepsodent had come to their school for a germ test in mouth and germs were found in his mouth, as such he failed the “Germ Test”. And so the kid is completely dejected and feels lost in the world.
Suddenly, his friend says, “Par fail to tera toothpaste hua (But it’s your toothpaste that’s failed)”. Immediately the dejected kid’s face lights up and he elates with joy, “Arre haan mera toothpaste fail hua (Oh ya it’s my toothpaste that’s failed)”. And the kid’s joy knows no bounds.
A careful analysis of the above ad shows that the feeling of success/failure can have profound influence on our psyches, behavior and emotions. Till the time the kid was associating the failure with himself he was sad, but the moment the feeling of failure shifted to the toothpaste, he was fine with it. For him, success here was the dissociation of the feeling of failure.
We will park this story for a while and move on to user responses that I received. Before that, I will repeat the question once again, “Why is success so important in life?” I’d posted this question on various forums on the internet and also involved in personal communication with many of my friends.
Most of the people gave me a response that success is important in life because,
1. It gives you money, prosperity, and everything that you want in life.
2. It gives you a good feeling.
3. It gives you motivation to work further.
4. It is a matter of survival for the lion and the deer. The lion hunts the deer and the lion may starve or the deer may die due to the failure of either.
5. Life is nothing without success.
6. It is an illusion.
And so on and so forth. There were many other answers but all belonged to the same psychological genre.
Unfortunately, all the above answers do not answer the question (does not necessarily mean they are wrong) because no one has understood the question at all. My question tacitly admits the paramount importance of success in life. It just questions, WHY?
Whereas, the above answers try to justify the importance of success by somehow proving something good about it and if I go by any of the above answers, it will again spawn a new plethora of questions like why is motivation important, why is feeling good important, and so and so forth. Basically, for every reason given to explain (read justify) the importance of success another question pops up, “Why is the justification important?” No one could really ‘explain’ me the importance of success.
I cannot but share this interesting observation by a friend, which goes something like this,
“Had it not been for the most successful swimmer you and I would not have been in this world.”
Well, I must say it was too biological of an answer, but then it does not explain the importance, it again justifies that since success is important, there are so many good things because of success and hence SUCCESS.
Many interesting observations have come from this discussion on success.
1. It reinforces the significance success carries tacitly admitted in the question.
2. It shamelessly touches upon the dire need of success in our life and the resultant insecurity and that is why people mostly ‘justify’ success in order to convince me as if, telling me “yes it is extremely important and you dare not question it.”
3. The very question makes people feel as if their most prized possession – the feeling of success – will be snatched away from them should they fail in answering my question and thus instead of answering my question, people mostly tend to slip into that arena of psychological insecurity. Having said that, I must admit, its normal human behavior. If someone else would have posed the question to me, I would have also reacted in the same way. Just by asking the question, it does not put me at any different pedestal.
4. The definition of success is highly individualistic and this choice of individuality and relativity in success has to be respected. For example, for a daily laborer, arranging two square meals a day for his/her family is success whereas for a business tycoon, making it on time for a client presentation is success. A meal is not a worry for him whereas time is not a worry for the daily laborer.
5. More often than not we as individuals or as society refuse to accept certain changes merely because we do not speculate success in the immediate outcome that we foresee. Of course this behavioral pattern emerges from the paramount importance of success but it’s an important observation nonetheless.
I will now come back to the example of the kid in the toothpaste ad as mentioned above. Failure is a dangerous feeling and the impending fear of probabilistic and potential future failure can have serious negative impacts on human psychology including social withdrawal and development of suicidal tendencies. Even the kid in the ad was visualizing a negative future having failed in the germ test. Till the time the feeling of failure is associated with the kid, success eludes him and he is dejected. As soon as the feeling goes away as it has been transferred to his toothpaste (an inanimate and a disposable entity), he suddenly feels successful.
Let us take some more examples of success. For a toddler who is feeling hungry, getting fed after crying is success. For someone who is feeling lonely, connecting a call to a friend and being able to talk is success. In fact, in today’s competitive world success has become a survival issue. Success has invariably got associated with some large goals like a lucrative job, a plush residence, spanking cars, social reputation and whatever materialistic visible. As such everyone has entered a blind rat race for success to such an extent that we have completely ignored or trivialized at best, the daily small successes that come our way – the success of every breath, the success of every moment, the success of life.
Hence, everyone is chasing success without understanding what success is and in this blind chase for success, individually and collectively we are ignoring the heavy casualties we are heaping onto ourselves in terms of moral compromises and ethical sacrifices. And it was the keen observation of these casualties that made me ask this question and hence this article.
Well, now I must admit one thing though. There is NO EXPLANATION available as to why success is important in life. It’s just that success is such an integral part of our life that we simply cannot realize why it’s important. It’s just important, it’s necessary. And every little success is important be it the pacifying the kid’s hunger or that much needed phone call to your friend. However, at the same time it is very crucial not to enter the blind rat race of artificially defined success. Because success is not something that is begotten, success is something that is created. Most of us do not create success; we simply chase success and are not satisfied with how much ever we achieve and instead of that, we still keep cribbing that success eludes us. It definitely will because, we have not created success, we followed something that did not exist and in turn created something we never wanted aka frustration.
I will cite another example here. This is a sub-plot from a Tibetan movie called “Samsara”
In this movie there is a youth who goes to a village and sees that there is a trader who comes occasionally to the village to buy commodities from the villagers and sells them in the town market. However, this trader purchases goods at a very low price and makes huge profits by selling them at a very high price in the market.
Realizing the fraud, the youth raises voice against it and exposes the trader. Seeing his business hit, the trader too retorts back saying that he will not purchase goods anymore from the villagers and threatens them that no one else will. The villagers are petrified and turn against the youth, who manages to convince the village head to send some people with him to the town and try selling. If they fail, he is ready to apologize to the trader so that the former business can be resumed.
Villagers vehemently oppose the idea saying they have no skills whatsoever to sell in the town and he should not have protested the trader. So what if he was making some money, at least their market was running that way and they were getting their livelihood. However, with much persuasion a group of villagers agrees to accompany the youth to the town market.
Reluctantly, they go there and try selling and find that really good sales are happening and they return back with 2-3 times the money they would have earned selling it to the trader. They are extremely happy with this and continue this practice. Needless to say, the youth was their HERO.
The key observation here is that because the villagers were not able to “see success” in whatever the youth was suggesting, they were not able to relate to the new reality that the youth was asking them to try out. And because they had limited success with the trader (running their normal livelihood), they were averse to a change even after realizing and recognizing that they were being cheated by the trader.
How often have we rejected or refused to accept a change merely because we did not see success in it outright or we could not envisage the change to be successful? This tendency arises from the blind chase of success. And it not only makes us averse to changes, it also makes us accept morally bankrupt or ethically invalid things in life. For e.g. we all know the harm done by corruption, but still for our petty things like passport, voter id card, we do look for that opportunistic tout who can get our work done with some, “extra payment”, popularly known as “bribe”.
We all know that getting work done without bribe is very difficult and at times next to impossible. But who has encouraged it? It’s the bribe-givers who have done so by associating success with the Boolean reality of getting the work done rather than emphasizing on, how is it done? And then blindly chasing that artificial definition of success and ignoring the bigger success behind – the success of eliminating or invalidating the existence of corruption. Because we cannot envisage success in following the path of getting work done without bribe, we invariably tend to ignore it and take a path which is morally bankrupt and loathed with artificial definition of success.
Success is a journey and not a destination.
As I write this article and conclude it now, I cherish every moment of success involved in its creation, right from the moment the question hit me to making the choice of throwing it open to public discussion to collecting and analyzing the responses and finally to consolidating them to compose the article.
Success is definitely very important in life and every one must create success in whatever they do, but blindly following artificial definitions of success is befooling oneself and choice lies with us only – do we really want to live such a deceitful life?