Success. One word; with a hundred different ways to define it. Some measure it in terms of money: how much they take home every month or how much their business is worth at the end of the financial year. Others find it in the quality of life they have managed to create for themselves: how often they can take their kids on holiday, the kind of cars they drive, or even the size of the home they live in.
Some define it in the context of happiness, in how much pleasure they have managed to extract from everyday, humdrum living. And others see it in more intangible terms; in whether they have succeeded in living life on their own terms, and enjoyed themselves while doing so.
How you define success in the end depends on the kind of person you are. If you are the kind who sees the world in purely materialistic terms, then you measure success by money and all the stuff it can buy. And the more money you earn and spend, the more successful you feel. But if, on the other hand, you define success on the basis of emotional, even spiritual well being, then you only feel truly successful if you achieve some measure of it in your own life.
And then, there are those people who are so driven that they never feel truly successful no matter how much they achieve. In their view, success is an ever-moving goal post that recedes further and further the more they try to close the gap. And no matter how far they get down that road, they can never quite grasp that glittering prize.
Just take a good long look at LK Advani. Anyone else would feel that his was a life well spent. Here is a man who single-handedly revived the fortunes of his party with his Rath Yatra and the Ayodhya movement.
He stepped back at the crucial time to allow AB Vajpayee, a more conciliatory figure, to form the government, but became the second-most powerful man in the country nonetheless. After the NDA was voted out of power, you would have thought that he would accept that his time in the sun was over and make way for a new generation.
But no, the dream of being Prime Minister survives even a decade later, because anything less than that seems like an anti-climactic end to his political career.
Not that Advani is the only one to measure his success in terms of the top job. Narendra Modi, his erstwhile protégé and current bête noire, is also not content with just being a three-time chief minister of Gujarat - quite an achievement in itself for a man who began his political life as a humble RSS pracharak. But no, Modi too will only feel truly successful if and when he becomes Prime Minister of India.
So, in that sense, success is linked to ambition. The more ambitious you are, the more it takes for you to feel like a success. Lesser beings may be content being chief minister or home minister. But for some, nothing less than being sworn in as Prime Minister will spell success.
Ambition, though, is only part of the story. Your peer group also plays an important part in determining what you see as success. If the rest of your friends are high-powered corporate honchos, then you probably won't feel much of a success if all you've achieved is a middle-management role.
If your college mates are being courted by the best companies with six figure compensation packages, you won't be content with any less.
If you are surrounded by two-car households, then one car - no matter how fancy - won't feel like a totem of success.
Which is why I often feel for the friends of high achievers like Shah Rukh Khan.
No matter how hard they work, no matter how much money they make, no matter how high they clamber up the ladder of achievement, can they ever feel truly successful when they measure themselves against their superstar friend? I think not.
Unless, of course, they have mastered the art of contentment, the ability to be happy in their own skin and find pleasure in their own lives, no matter how ordinary.
And resist the temptation to judge themselves by the achievements of others. Now that, as far as I am concerned, is the true definition of success.
From HT Brunch, March 30
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