Success is such a broad concept, developing a healthy relationship with it requires some personal introspection. We must turn success into something internal, to develop an inner confidence that goes beyond external recognition.
It's difficult to find balance between what to expect from ourselves and what the world expects from successful people.
"Don't worry when you are not recognized but strive to be worthy of recognition." -Abraham Lincoln
We must not strive to be admired by others. Nor to desire being recognized for our efforts. Instead we must let our work and our contribution to the world be worthy of recognition, even if we never get it.
Internal vs External Goals
The issue lies on pursuing what we often determine as dreams or goals. We often desire things that come from the external world, these are things we don't control. In order to leave a happy and successful life (as defined by you) is to distinguish between internal and external success.
Making your goals internal means to distinguish between what you control in your life and what you don't. Once you are able to determine what is in your control, you can now confidently strive for those things.
Ironically, you may find that some of these things might already be in your possession. An internally successful life consist of wishing for what you already have.
"It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. "Seneca
The trick is to not need anything outside ourselves to call our lives a success.
Measurements of success, such as money, are an external indicator that society made up. Yet, we cannot get rid of the idea of money, we all need it after all.
What we must do is put these types of accomplishments in a different category to our internal goals. These become our external goals. They fall under the category of things we don't have full control over.
Effort ≠ Reward
While the amount of work we do can result in more money, that might not always be the case. Life is unfair and your efforts don't always equal your rewards. We must learn to let go of what we don't control and focus fully on what we do.
External goals are necessary and ambition can be a driving force towards who we want to become, but external goals do not determine our internal success.
Dangers Of Ambiti
The drive that makes us acquire external success can quickly turn into a curse. We might be fueled by the wish to prove others wrong, or to feel better than everyone else. This motivation can take us to dark places.
It's important to remind ourselves of the limitations of our power, not to fool ourselves with projections of our ego. We must find out how to direct ourselves back to our internal goals.
The Humble 'I Don't Know'
As we strive for these internal goals we'll experience doubt, fear, contradictions or unanswered questions that conflicts us.
We can start saying:
"I don’t know the answer to that, let’s keep living to find out."
This approach trains the muscle of humility, the one that allows us to keep learning from life, instead of believing we can come up with concrete conclusions every time.
Some questions of internal growth cannot be solved through a search for advice, it's all found through personal interrogation.
Isn't Less Ambition Bad?
Ambition is a difficult concept, once we realize that less desire allows us to focus more on our internal success, we might as a consequence lose some of our ambition for external goals. This is not a bad thing.
If you've determined your life direction, you can figure what the steps are that will take you there. More importantly, you can fully understand why you want what you want. Most people strive towards things that aren't even their own honest desires, they follow what society makes them think they should want.
The Path Towards External Goals Is Not Determined By Your Ambition
External goals can be important in your life, even a priority sometimes. We must learn that it's not about who wants something the most.
Desire Doesn't Provide Results By Itself
If you think about two competing teams in a sport match, both teams want to win. Therefore, it's not the team who wants it the most that determines the victory, but about who is better prepared.
In the same way, you don't need to desire your external goals more than the person next to you. What you need to do to get there is develop the right systems and habits that will allow you to create the life you want to live.
Minimum Viable Effort
This is a revolutionary thought, the minimum viable effort consists of asking the following question:
What is the bare minimum I can do today, to call today a success?
This makes us lower our expectations instead of trying to always overwhelm ourselves with more.
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Internal success is a path towards self-awareness. It is something that you need to determine for yourself. If you learn to know yourself you will live a happier, more successful life.
As you work on yourself you'll find that coincidentally you'll also be better equipped to accomplish your external goals. The difference is that now you won't depend on them to call your life a success.