Success – how do you know?

Most of us strive for something in life. Whether your goal is to make money, live a simpler life, retire early, or simply to work on improving yourself we all have things, big or small that we want to achieve.

But how do we know when we have succeeded? Sometimes this is easy to answer. If you set a goal to earn enough money to go on holiday each year then success can be measured by reaching your chosen destination.

When our goals revolve around improving ourselves the question is much harder to answer. I was talking to a friend recently about her desire to be ‘good enough’ to do her job but when I asked her how she would recognise when she was ‘good enough’ she didn’t know.

If we can’t measure our success or our progress along the way then we will always be working towards an unachievable goal. As our brains work on the basis of moving towards pleasure and away from pain then striving for something that will always be out of reach becomes unsatisfying and ultimately futile. It reminded me of a story I heard a while ago that I would like to share with you.

The Fisherman and the Businessman

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small fishing village. As he sat, he saw a fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite a few big fish.

The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?” The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”

“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished. “This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.

The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”

The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman. “I have a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village to the City, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”

The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”

The fisherman asks, “And after that?”

The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”

So how do we improve or achieve success if we can’t measure how far we’ve come or how much further we need to go? Sometimes it’s just about recognising and appreciating the success we have right now.