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Below are notes about the words "success" and "successful" - S. Hein

Success and Britney Spears

Success and Anders Breivik

Success and Hillary Adams

Feeling vs Being Successful


Goals and Recovery From Abuse

Testing in the USA

Is Success a Destination? Or Just A Step Along the Way?

A Successful Cemetery?

Mastery of the English Language Ensures Success

Viktor Frankl Quote

Successfully Living In A Buddhist Monastery

"Successful" teen model Bethany Wallace dies of self-starvation




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What is success? What does it mean to be successful?

This morning, July 15, 2011, I briefly thought about whether I would feel successful if could keep the electric bill below a certain amount this time. Then I wondered if that was a goal worth achieving. (This reminds me of an issue I raise in the table comparing what I call the corporate definition of emotional intelligence with the socially responsible definition. I suggest that the socially responsible definition helps us use our feelings to help us decide which goals are worth achieving.)

Thinking more about the word "success," I have to admit I never questioned the definition of it which I was taught growing up in the American culture. Now though I believe we all need to seriously question what society means by this word. Usually, it seems like the word equates to making a lot of money.

Back in 2007 when Britney Spears was repeatedly getting arrested for drug use and driving under the influence, her children were taken from her by the courts. I wondered then if we could call her a successful mother, even though she is one of the most "successful" singers in recent history. Here is what I wrote then.

Today I am wondering if Osama bin Laden was successful. I would say it depends on who you ask. So this is one problem with the word. It is a little like the definition of emotional intelligence - it also depends on who you ask. (My page of definitions of EI).

To consider whether bin Laden was a success it might help to consider whether Che Guevara was a success. Even though he was killed in the end by those who felt threatened by him, he is admired by many people around the world.

I believe we assign far too much importance to the word "success." I would recommend to my young friends that they leave it almost entirely out of their vocabulary in fact. And I would recommend they pay close attention to how it is being used.

I remember signs in Peru saying that if you go to our private school, you will be a success. But it didn't mean that you would become a good person. It didn't mean you would become a good father or a good partner. It didn't mean you wouldn't have two or three divorces, for example.

One of the many things I like about Wayne Payne's writing about emotional intelligence, and why I prefer his view of it to Daniel Goleman's, Reuven BarOn's and David Caruso's, is that he does not make the claim that developing your emotional intelligence will make you more successful.

The word success is so over-rated and so over-used that I am inclined to say it is even something like a curse if you focus too much on it. I believe it will confuse you and distract you from things which are more important and more internally fulfilling and rewarding.

There are certain things that success doesn't even make sense with. For example, what would it mean to be a successful slave? It might mean someone who escaped from slavery, as Frederick Douglas did. So we might say a successful businessman is someone who escapes from the materialistic, capitalist world!

Thinking of love for a moment now, I wonder if it is more important to be successful or in love. And I wonder how we would even define a successful lover?

Feeling vs Being Successful

It may be more important to feel successful than to be successful. While others usually define success according to their standards, you have a chance to define what success means for you, day by day.

When you feel successful, it helps you feel good about yourself. It gives you more confidence.

How you feel about yourself is more important than how others feel about you.

There are many actors and politicians who are popular with the public, but who don't really feel good about themselves. An actor wins fame by acting, not by being himself. And a politician may win an election by lying.

They may be "successful" but unhappy inside. They may also make terrible parents. I think of Britney Spears, as just one example.

Goals and Recovery From Abuse

If a person has been abused and they feel "failful" in life, it could be helpful for them to set small goals each day or each week which they can accomplish. I think of my partner and someone I am counseling now. They were both abused physically and emotionally by their parents. And even for me. It could help me to set a goal and accomplish it. Even working towards one, or even setting a goal usually helps me feel better if I am depressed.

Success and Hillary Adams

The father of Hillary Adams felt scornful of his daughter because she wasn't as "successful" as he wanted her to be. But maybe, for Hillary, "success" at age 23 just means standing up to her father's abuse, calling it what it is, and moving away from him physically and emotionally.


I met a girl named Ene once in Europe who had a very high self-esteem. She felt good about herself. She had self-confidence. But she had dropped out of high-school and never went to a university. Her parents didn't think she was "successful."

Yet she successfully travelled all over Europe either alone or with friends. And Ene was much happier than her mother. She cared more about helping people than her mother did. She wasn't a career woman, but she was able to support herself financially, working in cafes, etc. and sharing rooms with friends from around the world.

She would have made an excellent role model for children because she was so happy, positive, encouraging and accepting. Yet she wouldn't have been allowed to be a teacher because she hadn't studied teaching in a university.

Was she successful? It depends who you ask. I would say she feels successful, she feels good about herself. I don't think it is important if society would call her successful and I especially don't think it is important what her parents think. I feel sad that they don't see their daughter's worth to the world, but I feel encouraged to know that she feels good about herself regardless of what they think. In fact, Ene was and always will be an inspiration to me.

How can a person feel good about herself if her parents didn't and don't feel good about her?

This is a question I am facing now with someone who I am counseling. I believe it will take a process of rebuilding her self-esteem.

Here are some questions we will discuss and address:

- How did she feel about herself as a child?

- What did she like about herself? What was she naturally good at?

- What does she believe her talents are now?

- What are her values - vs her parents?

- What will she feel good about doing? (She is not feeling especially good about herself from the work she is doing now)

Success and Britney Spears

I was chatting with someone yesterday who told me she would be happy to see her friend succeed. But I am not sure what she means by success. Her friend has a natural talent for singing and this is what we were talking about, so I assume she meant she would be happy if her friend became a successful singer. Our common image of a successful singer is someone who is famous, has many fans and makes a lot of money. By this definition, most of us would probably agree that Britney Spears is a successful singer.

But would we say she has succeeded as a mother? Would we say she is a success as a wife or as a partner?

This reminds me of the question what makes a mother. A 14 year old in the UK named Steff wrote about what makes a mother, a good mother and a great mother and an abusive mother:

What makes a mother, a good mother, a great mother, a bad mother, an abusive mother

When Steff was 14 I asked her to write what she thought made someone a mother, a good mother, a great mother, a bad mother and an abusive mother. Here is what she wrote:

A mother

If woman has given birth to the child, this makes her the mother in that she is related by blood and carried the child in her womb etc. However, his might be the only thing that makes her the mother.

A good mother

A good mother loves her child and gives them what they need (food, water, clothes, a place to sleep etc). She also hugs her child and makes sure her child knows she loves them regularly. She cares for her child and helps them grow up.

A great mother

A great mother gives her child what they need (food, water etc) but also gives them space to grow, learn and "breath". She doesn’t try and make her child something that they’re not and allows them to be themselves and explore different things. She doesn’t invalidate or punish her child, but instead encourages them to learn from experiences, not "mistakes" or "misbehaviour". She loves her child and shows it and she knows she doesn’t own her child and supports them in what ever they choose to do with their life, knowing that it’s their life, not her own. Her child grows up very happy and healthy, knowing how to meet his/her own emotional needs.

A bad mother

A bad mother punishes her child, imposes rules and maybe doesn’t let her child know she loves them enough. She might also stop her child from doing things (unreasonably) and when asked why, get all defensive and say things like "it’s for your own good".

The more she doesn’t accept the child’s individuality, the more likely it is that the child is going to feel outcast and out of place. The child might be more likely to rebel.

An abusive mother

An abusive mother might do all of the above but also physically punish her child. She would place all the blame and responsibility on the child and make the child feel completely worthless and undeserving of anything. The child would have no self-confidence or self-esteem and think it’s wrong to say they’re good at something. Everything they do would not seem good enough for their mother and the child might get depressed as a result of the way their mother treats them.

An abusive mother would manipulate her child and also emotionally abuse them. She would shout at her child and make them cry. She would always be putting them down and invalidating them by saying things like "I don’t care what you think, your opinion doesn’t matter" "I’m everything, you’re nothing" and "What did I do to deserve you?".

Testing in the USA

"The testing movement in the United States has been a success, if one judges success by the usual American criteria of size, influence, and profitability"

David McClellan, Harvard University


Is Success a Destination? Or Just A Step Along the Way?

Here is some journal writing:

Feb 18 2012

Under a bridge in Brinchang Malaysia - Just moved a large, very heavy cement post so I could sit on it or use it for a footrest. I feel successful. I think of my principle of CRS - creative, resourceful successful. I used some rope and plastic cord I had found in different places. The rope is from Morocco. I found it on the beach. The blue cord is from Malaysia - I found it just the other day. I used it to keep one end of the post from slipping into the creek while I moved the other. I was afraid it would break, but it didn't.

Anyhow, I am sitting on the post now. Listening to the water. Thinking of the time I realized it is healthy for me to hear the sound of water when I was in Peru. It was then that I started my list of things they didn't teach me in school.

But back to the issue of feeling successful.

It seems now that success is not a final thing. I feel successful about the cement post, but what does that mean for my life? I think it helps me feel stronger, helps me believe in myself more. So success is more like a step in your journey - not the destination.

I think of a rich businessman who people say is "successful" - but at what? At life? And is it possible to be successful one day then failful the next? If so then the word doesn't have much meaning... S. Hein

A Successful Cemetery?

Here is a bizarre example of how the word success is over-used to the point of meaninglessness.

In a small town in Malaysia (Gopeng, just south of Ipoh) we saw a bus that had an advertisement for a cemetery on it. As you can see the ad read that it was the only state-approved and "most successful" memorial park in the region. We were wondering what "most successful meant. Did it mean they have the highest rate of dead people remaining dead in their cemetery? Or did it mean they were the most profitable cemetery or just what?

Notice the exclamation points...

We checked their website and read about how "feng shui" supposedly "enhances the fortunes" of the descendants of the dead person. So maybe that is what they mean by successful. Maybe the descendants have a higher chance of winning the lottery or something. But who is really questioning these things? Who questions what it means to be "successful" for example?

What makes one cemetery more succcessful than another? Or is the question even worth asking? This makes me wonder if it is worth asking what makes one person more "successful". Or if is worth asking what makes one religion more "successful."

This example of the advertisement on the bus seems to be a pretty clear case of someone just using the words success and successful to manipulate others. And I wouldn't be surprised if that is how it is used the majority of the time.

S. Hein
Tapah, Malaysia
March 16, 2012

Here is something from their website:

Under the leadership of the senior management, PARADISE MEMORIAL PARK: GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE is now one of the largest, most successful state-approved and privately-owned memorial park in Perak. We are constantly on the move to continuously improve our products and services offering to our truly valued and appreciated customers.GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE is designed and developed based on a garden-styled memorial park concept. It is professionally landscaped and surrounded by flora and fauna specifically chosen to adapt to the overall natural environment. The main objectives of the concept is to portray a beautiful, peaceful and tranquil environment."GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE is a scenic place for the dearly departed loved ones to rest in peace and harmony."A visit is welcomed to better appreciate its beauty and uniqueness as well as to qualify the abovementioned statement. Feel to to contact us by clicking here or call us at+ 60 (5) 242 1788 / 2788

Bethany Wallace - UK

A highly successful teenage model in England has died. Her death was the result of starving herself because she thouight she was fat.

She was a cover girl on glossy teen magazines, including Popgirl and BBC Girl Talk, from the age of 12 — making 112 per shoot. But she developed eating disorders at 16 and was ultimately too weak to work.

tags England, success
Viktor Frankl Quote

"Again and again Iadmonish my students in Europe and America: Don’t aim at success -- the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you haveto let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge."