zen habits : breathe

Why I don’t care about success

‘Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.’ ~Albert Einstein

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on twitter.

A lot of people in my field write about how to be successful, but I try to avoid it. It’s just not something I believe is important.

Now, that might seem weird: what kind of loser doesn’t want to be successful?

Me. I’m that loser.

Obviously, the first problem with success is how you define success … is it becoming famous, rich, creating a world-changing business, coming up with an idea that changes people’s lives, helping others, being happy? So many people with values similar to mine would reject the traditional definitions of success: being rich or famous or having a best-selling book or creating a huge business is not all there is to life.

And those people are right, in my book. If all you’re striving for is money, you’ll do horrible things to get it. If all you want is a successful business, you’ll screw people over to get it. If all you want is fame, you’ll give up your dignity to achieve it.

I could probably get a book on the New York Times best-seller list if I really tried, but it’s not something I care enough about, and I know I’d have to do things I wouldn’t be happy doing in order to get there. I’d have to make promises I couldn’t deliver on, sell something to people who are looking for answers I don’t have, trick them into buying the book.

I could make a lot more money than I make now, if I capitalized on all the readers I have and pressured them into buying more things. But I don’t think buying a lot of things is a good thing, so I’d feel crappy doing that. It’s not worth it.

Snake oil

So those who teach you to be successful … they’ll share methods that are a bit shady sometimes. If not, often they sell you platitudes that sound good but are too vague to really mean anything.

I’ve read many, many things on how to be successful (I can’t avoid finding them — they’re everywhere), and rarely will any of them really show you how to get where you want to go.

And when you don’t get there, you blame not the success system, but your own inadequacies.

The deeper problem

There are other problems, though. Whatever your definition of success, it’s something you’re looking for … something that exists in the future. It’s based on your desire to achieve something, your feelings that you’re not where you want to be.

That’s why the snake oil salesmen are so “successful” … they capitalize on the feelings of inadequacies that other people have. I think that’s horrible.

But beyond that, the trap of striving for this future “success” … it’s never-ending. You strive for more, and then when you get it, you strive for more again. You’re never satisfied. People who have a billion dollars, for example … they’re successful, right? Why don’t they stop trying to make money, then? Why would they possibly need more than a billion dollars? How can you possibly spend that much? They strive to make more because there will never be enough. They’ll never be successful enough.

That’s true not just of the rich, but of anyone who strives for success. Striving is a condition that doesn’t have an end, unless you give it up.

The real success

I might have a lot of readers now on Zen Habits, but I don’t feel that’s what makes me a success. I’ve been a success since Day 1, because even when I had zero readers, I was doing what I loved. Even when no one else would have called me a success (I really was a nobody then), I absolutely loved writing my posts, and though I don’t agree now with a lot of what I wrote back then (in 2007), I was happy.

Success isn’t about achieving something in the future, but about doing something right now that you love.

So doesn’t that mean I care about success? Well, sure, if you define success as whatever it is you care about, then of course you’re going to care about success. But then “success” really doesn’t have a meaning, does it? If it can mean anything, then it means nothing.

So forget about “success”, and just find joy, passion, love, awesome-ness right now, in this moment. *That* is a success you can achieve, without any self-help course, without any method. Just go out and do it.


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