Success. It’s the great goal we spend our lives working frantically hard for. But how do we define success? And perhaps more importantly, where are we looking to find the answer to that question? The way we define what success means to us can have profound implications on the way we spend our working years, and on the fulfillment, we experience from our efforts (or not). Here are a few thoughts on defining success that are inspired by insights from the world of music.

How Many Notes Are In Your Song?

Measuring success by money alone is almost certain to create an unfulfilling experience of life. According to a recent article in Forbes, acquiring wealth beyond an estimated salary of $83,000 per year has diminishing returns on our happiness. In this light, gauging our success by how much money we can accumulate is akin to judging the value of a piece of music by how many notes it contains. Sure, masterful displays of verbose musical virtuosity can be impressive. But that’s not all there is to a piece of music that truly touches our hearts and lifts our spirits. So instead of gauging our success by the numbers, we might ask ourselves how much joy we experience in what we do, how much beauty we are creating in the world, or how much we are uplifting those around us.

Lip Sync and Auto-Tune!

Society puts forward many definitions of success, a lot of which have to do with looking good in the eyes of others. What’s the label on your handbag? What kind of car do you drive? What brand are your shoes. These definitions of success are about appearance instead of substance, and often leave us feeling hollow instead of happy. The musical analogy here is the performer who lip syncs their live performances, and uses computer-aided auto-tune to help their studio recordings, but can’t really sing or play. They might look great on stage, and sell lots of albums, but listen to them in a solo acoustic setting, and we quickly realize something is missing. Instead of defining success by the appearance of our lives, we might define success by the substance of our lives. What is the day-to-day quality of your subjective experience of yourself, and how do you feel about your life at the end of the day when the audience goes home? 

What’s Your Favorite Tune?

We live in a culture that assumes when it comes to success, we all want the same things: a bigger house, a slimmer figure, a fancy title, the corner office. A google search of “how to get flatter abs” returns 1,440,000 results in 0.65 seconds! Thinking that the definition of success is one-size-fits-all is like assuming that we all have the same favorite song. Imagine how torturous it would be to spend your life only ever listening to music that someone else likes! Yet we very easily default to pursuing our culture’s stereotypical definition of success. Instead of defining success by society’s norms, it may serve us to remember that the concept of success is uniquely individual. How different life would be if we each played the music we enjoyed listening to, and allowed others the space to do the same.

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