What is success?

This past weekend I was browsing through my RSS reader, and I came across an interesting post titled What is success? Impact.

The author is basically questioning what should be considered success (on a professional level), and he comes to the conclusion that success should be measured as the positive impact his work will have upon the lives of other people.

The article caught my attention because I have the exact same opinion.

Obviously I don’t think there is right or wrong as to how we define success. The term itself is a subjective thing, so what success means to you might be different from what it means to me or other people, and this is perfectly fine.

That being said, I think it is useful to discuss about such definitions, because it helps us to analyze whether or not we are moving in the right direction.

For example, most people tend to equate success with money. That is, the more money you make, the more successful you are. But under this definition one could argue that a drug dealer who makes millions of dollars annually is a very successful person. I don’t agree with this. I could give you that such drug dealer is a savvy businessman, but I wouldn’t call him successful, because the impact he has on the life of other people is actually a very negative one.The same thing could be said about online spammers, scammers and so on.

Now take Linus Torvalds as another example. He is the founder of the Linux movement, which created one of the most successful open source projects to date, and enabled millions of people to use a free and very reliable operating system. I am not sure how rich he is, but even if he was broke I would call him a successful person, because he had a huge impact on the lives of people from around the world.

Note that these things are not mutually exclusive either. In other words, it is possible to make a lot of money and have a positive impact in the lives of many people at the same time (and often times they go together). Just think about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergei Brin.

But, I suspect that these folks were first and foremost motivated by the possibility of making something big that would impact many people. As Steve Jobs say, by the possibility of putting a dent in the universe. Sure, they were no philanthropists, so the money was welcome too, but I don’t think it was the only nor the main thin g they were pursuing.

Which leads us to one question: are you working to make as much money as possible, or to make as big an impact as possible?

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