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The meaning of success

Seeing success through human design.

Perhaps all experiences are rather trivial. --J. Krishnamurti

When I was 22 I graduated from Yale with a double major in anthropology and economics. I’m not sure whether I was magna cum laude or just cum laude. I also remember having honors in both majors? Yes, I think I did. Nevertheless, it was one of the worst weekends—if it was a weekend—of my life. I remember walking in a depressed haze, devastated that I hadn’t won any of the special individual awards, or gotten a Phi Beta Kappa key—if they get a key—or that God herself hadn’t blessed me as an especially superlative Yalie. No, I didn’t get any such affirmation, the kind of affirmation I had been used to in my high school years. My sweet, supportive family came, I walked around, but I felt numb and blank most of the time. Apparently I had succeeded, but what did it all mean?

The background culture feeds us a faulty idea of what success is, or what we will feel if we are “successful.” The American idea of success is false: fake news. Events like the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain remind me, perhaps remind us, that success is not the panacea that it’s cracked up to be. This is actually good news for those of us who are not famous, and also for those of us who are. There is nothing out there, in the future, no achievement to work toward.

In 2013, a study showed that 22 American veterans die of suicide each day, so by no means am I saying that it’s harder for rich folks. It’s just that we live within a culture that has a central myth, and that is: if we have enough money and/or fame, then we will be okay. The fakest news.

I think about success because I study and teach human design, a system that addresses the the questions of what is satisfying, or peaceful, or successful for each person. Human design identifies you as one of 5 types, based on your time and location of birth. According to human design success is only even relevant for a certain kind of person, the projector, who makes up roughly 21 percent of the population. For the projector, success is what we call a “self theme.” This means that when a projector is connected to their own frequency, what they will feel as a result of their action is success. This is contrasted to bitterness, which is what they feel if their actions are not flowing naturally with their energy.

This kind of success is very different from success as it is defined in the world in which we seem to live (referred to as the Maia by human design founder Ra Uru Hu). The search for success in the outside world is really the search for approval from others.

In our country (and perhaps most countries) people seem to often do things as a way to seek success, approval, or a sense of self-worth. Seeking success, money, love, or approval is not a great reason to do something, by which I mean, a really BAD reason to do something. The human being longs for experience. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the freedom to experiment.

Even as a wee 20 year old at Yale, I felt the pressure not to experiment too much. Many friends would begin taking five classes a semester, and simply drop a class one-third of the way through when they got their first B in a test.

In our society, before we do something, we are taught to ask, “Is this likely to succeed?” That kind of success is, actually, beside the point. Many people who end up with this kind of success remain dissatisfied, get bored and/or burnt out, or worse, enter the realm of despair. A better question to ask is, “Do I have the energy for this right now?

That’s it.

It’s all just an experiment. The soul doesn’t care if you close the restaurant after 3 months, or if no one comes to your hair salon, or if your poetry never gets published. Of course, the ego cares. It cares a lot. Which is why so many people are doing things that are not satisfying for them, or that don’t bring them true, inner success.

But please don’t believe me. I’m only speaking from my own experience. Enter the experiment yourself, and tell me what it’s like for you.

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