Success, like most things in life, is a subjective thing.
- For a seven-year-old, success might mean staying up late after bedtime and getting away with it.
- For a father of five in Tanzania, success might mean growing good crops for the year so he can afford to feed the family.
- For a silicon valley entrepreneur, success might mean raising enough money to get her start-up started.
People from all walks of life all have different definitions of success, so how could there possibly be a formula to succeed no matter what?
Well, the Stoics came up with one universal definition that can apply to everyone, so let’s get into it.
Your Thinking Makes It So
“That all is as thinking makes it so – and you control your thinking. So remove your judgments whenever you wish and then there is calm.” – Marcus Aurelius
Firstly, to understand the Stoics’ definition of success, we must take a look at a fundamental stoic principle, the art of focus; Or as Mark Manson puts it, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.”
In short, the art of focus is the ability to only focus on the things that you can control, and not paying so much attention to the things you cannot control.
What are the things you can control?
- Your thoughts
- Your Actions
That’s it, everything else in life is out of your control.
“A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.” – Seneca
Thus, in order to be happy, one must only focus on the two factors in life that can be controlled.
And yet success is almost always defined by factors of which you cannot control…
This is why in order to always succeed, you must change your definition of success, to something that you can control:
How the Stoics Define Success
“Captain your own ship, and chart a course towards wisdom and virtue. Do not, however, insist upon commanding the sea.” – William Ferraiolo
The Stoics define success not by the outcome, but by the process.
If you define success by the outcome, which is inherently something out of your control, you will always be, more or less, at the mercy of luck. It will never be up to you whether you succeed or not.
You can work hard for the best chance of success, but that is all you can do.
So why not make the working hard part your definition of success?
“The wise man looks to the purpose of all actions, not their consequences; beginnings are in our power but Fortune judges the outcome, and I do not grant her verdict upon me.” – Seneca
Allow me to explain,
If an archer practices day and night for years and tries his best to make a shot, as he has thousands of times before, does that mean he’s guaranteed to hit the bullseye?
The archer can do everything in his power to get the best chance of making the shot, but once the arrow leaves the bow, it is out of his hands.
A gust of wind could hit the arrow, it could start hailing and a piece of ice could hit the arrow, or the target could fall to the ground because it wasn’t secured properly.
So even if the archer does everything he can, hitting the bullseye is still not in his control. If that’s the case, which it is, then why on earth would the archer make whether he hits the target or not his definition of success?
Well, he doesn’t…
A good archer defines himself by how well he prepared for the shot, not by how often he hit the bullseye.
A similar way of defining success can apply anywhere, basketball players, entrepreneurs, artists, etc.
If you know you tried your best at something and did everything in your power to reach the desired outcome, you’ve already succeeded.
Conversely, if you didn’t try your best, you have already failed.
We succeed or fail in the process, not the outcome.
Going back to the topic of this post, how does one succeed no matter what?
Define your success by how much effort you put into the process. That, is how you succeed in everything you do.
Why This Is Effective?
By focusing on the process and not the outcome, this takes the pressure off the uncertainty of success or failure.
Thus, by taking the pressure off of things, it allows you to focus more intensely on what really matters.
If you know you will succeed no matter what, as long as you’ve done everything you can, then only a fool would not always try their best.
If you do this, you will almost always feel at peace with yourself. Because even if the outcome is undesirable, you’ve already succeeded. There is no such thing as failure, only not trying your very best.
This concept can be applied to all things in life, such as your relationships, your health, your career, etc.
But of course, like many concepts in Stoicism, this mindset is not easy to adapt.
If you are not careful, you will revert to thinking of success as defined by the outcome. For it to become your default mindset, the only way is to remind yourself of it constantly.
Remember, base on your efforts, you have already succeeded or failed before the arrow has left the bow.
Here’s a quick rundown of this post.