How to Succeed Without Really Trying
A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.
Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.
When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.
Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.
Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live.
Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee. Savor the coffee, not the cups! The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.
Ask yourself, are you successful?
What is “success?”
We should start by defining the term. There are several competing definitions, but the one I find most useful is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”
Granted, that is broad. By that meaning, one can achieve success simply by pouring milk and cereal into a bowl if their aim is only to make breakfast. Most of us aim just a little higher.
So how do we apply this definition to our lives as a whole? How do we look at everything that makes us and determine whether we are, in fact, succeeding?
The Meaning of Life
The key lies in setting parameters for what the “aim or purpose” of life entails.
Yikes, you might think. And, yes, it is yet another lofty question. One without an agreed-upon answer.
For some people, life is falling in love, raising children, and passing on traditions. For others, the purpose might be to amass wealth or fame or simply to enjoy as many moments as they can before shuffling off this mortal coil.
Life, simply put, has many meanings.
It’s a spectrum.
So we can’t expect some specific set of quantities or qualities to boil down to Success or Failure, yes or no.
And so, if society can’t effectively answer our question, that leaves only us and what we decide defines our success.
How to Succeed
I want to be clear that there are an infinite number of personal requirements for success. You should take your time deciding what parameters to set for your own success, and you should never feel beholden to them. If you aren’t making progress toward your requirements simply by living your life and being yourself, you may want to reconsider what goals you have chosen.
Let me give an example: I went to work at a job I thought I would love. It utilized my skillset, paid more than I’d ever seen in my life, and allowed me time to be with my friends. It checked every box of my personal goals.
I was miserable. Why? Because my goals were wrong. From the outside, it would be easy to look at my situation and think I was succeeding, but I could not have been further from success.
I realized that what brings me joy is creating new things that hold future significance, which this job did not allow me to do. My creative energy went into making excel sheets and other documents which would be discarded as soon as they were created. I was failing a goal which I had internalized but never properly set for myself.
I left that job and began devoting more time to writing and acting, things I was already doing with my spare time. Not so much money or esteem, and far less time, but I am fulfilled. I have achieved personal success by adjusting my goals to match my desires. I didn’t have to do anything.
Take a look at what you do when nobody else is expecting anything from you. That is where your real idea of success starts. The rest is just the cup you put it in.
Benjamin Shuman is a Los Angeles-based, classically trained actor and singer with experience in multiple mediums. He has held lead roles Off-Broadway, in nationally-recognized Webshows, and as a Voice-Over Artist.