What is meant by true success

In our modern society, working hard to succeed has long been considered a virtue. Little do we realise that what we are chasing isn't true success at all

Man entering doors of true success

I am thinking of a dear friend Abhishek who, by all worldly accounts, is living a fairly happy life: great career, loving spouse, lovely children, good health—everything that spells success in our society. He is an intelligent chap, and also quite spiritually oriented—reads a lot and has also attended many spiritual retreats. And yet he feels unsatisfied with life. He is still in the clutches of his childhood dreams of success and feels that he has not accomplished what he would’ve liked to. Such is the force of his desire that he is on the verge of depression—all because he wants to achieve more.

The waiting game

This is what happens when we chase success the way our modern society defines it. Such success is always relative. The “other” is necessary for me to feel successful. If I want to go ahead, there must be those who I leave behind. And the other too is trying to do the same.

Of course I pay a heavy price for such success. I gain money, fame, power and the contraptions that symbolise success but lose a lot more in the bargain—I  lose my health, my relationships, my peace of mind, my awareness and appreciation of nature, my ability to relax and allow life to unfold, my wonder and awe… all my real wealth. In fact, I would say I lose my very life because when I seek something, I end up always waiting to live, instead of living now. It’s a very big price for something so ephemeral.

A different neurosis

But wait a minute! My ego doesn’t think so. It is very pleased with all the possessions and acquisitions, and the sense of pride and identity it derives from them. It doesn’t matter that inside I feel like a failure because I have gained this success and yet lost the ability to enjoy it—like my friend Abhishek! If this is not neurosis, what is?

To different degrees and in different ways, we are all afflicted by the same neurosis. My friend is a mirror of my own desire; mine is not about achieving more but about making a greater positive impact on the world. Outwardly it seems like a noble intention but make no mistake—it’s just another form of neurosis, different in degree perhaps, but similar in its emphasis on “doing” and living in the future.

I can see that my conviction that some day I will finally arrive, feel truly successful and happy is an illusion, albeit a compelling one. Isn’t it absurd that even though I have no guarantee that tomorrow will come, I sacrifice my today in the hope that I will be happier when it comes?

True success isn’t pursued

I also understand that unless I change how I define success and what it means to me, my pursuit will never end. I will keep chasing and wanting and doing more—never realising that true success cannot come in the future because the future doesn’t exist, except in my imagination.

So what is true success? A wiser dimension of me whispers that it is the ability to be fully alive now. And it means to be aware of being alive. This is the awareness I need to keep coming back to, each time my neurosis threatens to take my life away from me. This is the anchor I need each time my attention moves away from living now to ‘waiting to live’.


This was first published in the January 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri considers himself a student and teacher of the wisdom of love. He is also a writer-editor and has written on topics ranging from strategic marketing and business management to art, culture and even philosophy. His more than 1200 published stories—articles, interviews, full-length features—have appeared in some of the leading newspapers and magazines of India. A certified cognitive behavioural therapist, he works as a personal counsellor too. He is the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed book based on powerful ideas of some of the greatest thought leaders. Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".

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