Category Archives: Definition

“Know thyself” – what is your definition of success?

The phrase “know thyself” is one of the oldest bits of wisdom of all civilization. According to the Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias the precept “Nosce te ipsum” (Know thyself) was carved into the court of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the phrasing has echoed throughout the ages.

But what does it mean to really “know thyself” and what does it mean for achieving success? I’m writing this basic note to discuss a question I am commonly asked: “Am I a success?” My answer (“Well, what do you define as success?”) seems so pedantic on the surface. Dull and plodding. But the truth is success is defined by only by the individual, and only knowledge of your own definition of “success” will ever reveal whether you have succeeded.

This isn’t to say that society can’t or doesn’t provide a measure of success…but society can only measure what you have defined. My definition of a “successful tennis match” with my son doesn’t include winning the game, (or even keeping track of the score!), anywhere near as much as it includes conversation and camaraderie, an elevated heart rate and enough water to drink, and not losing all the balls we brought along. It wouldn’t make sense to ask anyone else who’s watching, “Hey, are we having a successful tennis match?” Their criteria for success are not my criteria for success. However, depending on my success criteria, it might be very helpful to ask them, “Was that ball in or out?” or “How many calories have I burned?”

Know thyself.

Side notes:
There is an informative “know thyself”-themed website here: http://thyselfknow.com/ (yes, the word order is correct for this website!)