No one has ever been consistently successful and conversely no one has ever been a consistent failure. The degree to which we succeed in life indeed depends on our efforts and character, but we must remember that outward success is different from self-esteem. Successes are external measures (money, fame, prestige, respect, etc.) of your performance. Self-esteem is the internal measure of your performance. While having and achieving goals is good and healthy, we must remember that there is a certain level of arbitrariness that goes along with that. This idea doesn’t destroy the excitement of achievement and success but rather attenuates and puts it into perspective.
When Good is Bad and Bad is Good
Think about it. If success were a constant, the greatest men and women would always remain perfectly esteemed and free from criticism, or at least close to it. When you achieve something, it is an outward reward based upon the external climate. What I mean by that is your environment rewards you for meeting its temporary needs. Winning the presidency is a reward for making the best case to the American people that you can meet their needs. Winning a powerlifting meet means that, in relation to the other lifters, you were the strongest. Being a popular girl at school means that your body type, fashion sense, and personality are being rewarded for meeting the needs/desires of your peers. All of these things are neither good nor bad, just neutral.
So success is an external validation based on you meeting someone or something’s needs. Let’s look at an extreme example. For a while, Adolf Hitler was very successful. That doesn’t mean he was “good” or “right”, but rather that he found a way to meet (or supposedly meet) other people’s needs and desires. I am sure that there were wildly intelligent, empathetic, and dutiful people in Germany at the time, but they didn’t rise to power. For whatever reason, the environment chose Hitler. My point here is that no matter who you are, you will never always be successful. It’s impossible. Precisely because external needs and wants are always changing.
A personal example. As a teacher I work with groups of students in various capacities. Some years, my students love me. So much so that they buy me gifts and come back years after they have left to see me. Other years, much less so. I don’t think my students have ever hated me, but some years there are no awards or heartwarming appreciation. I, at my core, haven’t changed. I always treat my students the same. But times and things change, and for whatever reason, I am not that special to them. And that’s okay!
Success and Self-Esteem
Success is cyclical and elusive. No sooner than you achieve something, the desire for something bigger and better comes along. One achievement is a spur to the next. Totally natural. But focus on the internal as well. Self-Esteem is a result of feeling good about yourself based on your pre-determined values. If you value family, you will have high self-esteem if you take actions that show that. If you value loyalty, every time you are there for a loved one you feel good about yourself. Success never stays around indefinitely, whereas self-esteem never leaves you so long as you cultivate it. I’m reminded of a Bible verse: Do not store treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, but store up treasures in heaven.
Time and seasons will change, and certain virtues will go in and out of popularity. Everyone is subject to this. Sometimes, external rewards will validate our work and other times they won’t. There’s nothing bad about it, it just is what it is. If you can set your values and stay true to them, you can end up with the cake upon which success is the icing. Thanks for reading!