What does it mean to be successful? The word “success” has come to mean certain achievements or ways of living that not all of us believe in.
I often use the word “flourish” rather than “success” or “succeed” for several reasons. First, the word success has been hijacked. Conventional “success” these days seems to be defined by society as being uber-wealthy with all the material trappings that can bring. In many circles, success might also mean having an attractive, accomplished spouse with 2.5 well-behaved and well-educated children.
Celebrity has also become connected to success. Even if you haven’t accomplished anything at all, if your name is floating around the Internet and everyone knows about your latest haircut/girlfriend/vacation to the Bahamas, somehow you are considered a success. Like I say, the word has been hijacked.
Flourishing is different. Whether a person is “flourishing” or not is not defined by society or the media. Flourishing is defined by the individual. Someone who chooses to drop out of the mainstream and live within the smallest carbon footprint possible by being creative with sustainable resources might not be considered a success, but she is flourishing. A CEO who decides to work part-time so he can live in another country with an emerging economy and start a school that trains young adults in software development bucks the common notion of success but fits right within the definition of flourishing.
Also, I think the word success has always been too narrow. We apply it to business or career, maybe even to the accepted versions of relationships. But we don’t think of “successful” health, emotional lives, or spiritual lives. We compartmentalize and believe that people can be dysfunctional in all kinds of areas, yet still qualify for the modern definition of success.
Think about Imelda Marcos or Bernie Madoff (before he got caught and went to prison) or Roman Polanski. Based on wealth and fame, they could be considered successful per society’s standards. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are examples of flourishing.
Success is also an end point whereas flourishing is a way of life. When people discuss success, they talk about “arriving.” Once you meet certain, societally- determined criteria, you’ve “made it.” Unless you screw up in some way, once you hit that destination called success, you’re done. You’re supposed to just keep doing what you’re doing. Of course, many people who arrive at “success” end up being totally dissatisfied. They may even self-destruct in their quest to figure out why this great destination turned out to feel so empty and unfulfilling.
But flourishing is about constant growth and expansion. People who flourish continue to test their limitations, and stretch their abilities and knowledge. They have a curiosity and constantly look for what’s next. Rather than a static end point, flourishing is more like life itself, continually increasing and strengthening. Flourishing people persist in moving forward, not out of disappointment with who they are or what they have. The urge for growth comes from an excitement and anticipation that is inherent in flourishing.
Go forth and flourish!