When I’m wishing someone well on a joyous occasion, the word which most commonly surfaces is hatzlocho. Behatzlocho. I wish you success! As humans, success is central to our lives. It drives us. It controls us. And sometimes, it plays too large a role, too important a part. Have you ever met someone who didn’t care about success? I certainly haven’t. And yet, success doesn’t have any one definition. Look up the word success in the dictionary. Does it tell you how much money you need to have to be successful? At what age you should marry? Of course not!
Success is subjective. A homeless person would feel he had succeeded if he found himself a house, a job, and food on the table every night. Many of us have exactly these things, yet we don’t feel we’ve succeeded. Why not? I’m still working a boring 9-5 job, I haven’t succeeded yet. Or, I’m 25 and I still haven’t gotten married. Or even, I don’t care if I started a business; I’m not a millionaire, and I’ve got to be one. Indeed, after many months or years, that homeless man who felt he had succeeded will have moved on to something else. Rather than feeling a homeowner’s newfound pride, he’ll feel discontent over what he hasn’t got. All his friends are making more than him. He hasn’t found a date yet. He hasn’t managed to make his parents proud. His mind will change; he didn’t succeed after all.
Is this healthy? Is it right? Is it proper?
Yes and no. Yes, we should constantly strive to acheive greater things. A need for success drives us to do this, and by constantly changing our expectations of ourselves, we better ourselves. So it’s not entirely bad. In many ways, this need to succeed is the opposite of apathy and contentment- and apathy is worse than wickedness! But predictably enough, it’s also unhealthy. Incorrect. Bad, even. This craving for success often comes from a sense of deep discontentment. A corporeal discontentment. We start to not notice the blessings around us; the rooves over our heads, the food on our tables, the families who love us. We become materialistic, and aggressive. Nothing is good enough for us; we need to achieve this goal. And even when we do, the cycle continues.
So what’s the answer to this problem? How can we deal with an addiction to success?
As always, we can utilise it, but we need to look within. We need to look at the world around us, appreciate it, appreciate our Creator, and then form our goals. We do need goals. To give up on the notion of success, to abandon our goals in life, would be counter-intuitive. It would be patently harmful. But succeeding in a G-dly way stems from two moves we must make. Firstly, we need to practice thankfulness. Before we can decide what defines success, what we need to do next, we need to look at what we already have. And be thankful for it. Rather than focussing on what you want, focus on what you’ve been given. Rather than focussing on what to do, focus on what we’ve already done.
And secondly, we need to adapt the goals themselves. Once we’ve assessed what we have, and what we want, this should come more easily. We must look at our definitions of success, and decide if that’s really what success is. Is success owning a business? Or is it raising a family? Is success making money? Or is it feeding the hungry? Is success about us? About others? Or about G-d? Will these successes satisfy us, or will they make us want more? No-one else can answer these questions. But when we look within, we can. It’s a matter of doing what’s right; not just for us, but in G-d’s eyes. Ultimately, He is the one who decides whether or not we’ve succeeded. And although ten years building a business may account for a lot, it doesn’t match up to even ten minutes of wearing tefillin.