Redefining Success

My definitions and usage of various terms in the following essay (e.g. “waking up,” “leap-frogging,” “The Force”) are found in the initial essays in this blog collection. See the entries posted as Front Matter and Introduction, Waking Up and Leap-Frogging.



Redefining Success


            How do you define “success”? What does it mean to you to be “successful”? For most people, at least in the Second Wave (Western) world, success means “the gaining of wealth, position, or other advantage.” This is the standard dictionary definition, implying things like advancement, “upward mobility” (e.g. rising from a mid-level management position to the top of the corporate hierarchy), getting or being rich, having power or status, achieving a prominent social position, or gaining acclaim or a respected reputation in one’s career (e.g. recognition as an “expert”).

            In Second Wave reality, the opposite of “success” is failure, something to be avoided. From earliest childhood we are taught to seek success and try to avoid failure. This is particularly true in those families where children are extensions of the parental ego: the child must succeed so that the parent looks good in the eyes of family and friends. So there is an ego investment involved in the whole notion of “success.”

            Comparison with others is also involved in our conventional attitudes about success. The “successful” person advances beyond other people, or gains advantage, compared to some others. There’s an element of “one-upmanship” that figures in this concept.

            Some definitions of success are situational. A whimsical piece that went around the U.S. in April and May 2001 illustrates this:

“Life’s a test and you’re graded on a curve. At age 4, success is not peeing in your pants. At age 12, success is having friends. At age 16, success is having a driver’s license. At age 20, success is having sex. At age 35, success is having money. At age 50, success is having money. At age 60, success is having sex. At age 70, success is having a driver’s license. At age 75, success is having friends. At age 90, success is not peeing in your pants.”[1]

            Common to all these definitions of Second Wave “success” is something rarely recognized but at the core of Second Wave thinking: the whole orientation is external, i.e. focused on the physical, tangible reality “out there.” Wealth, power, position, rank, class, status, behavior—all are part of life “out there.”

            By this point, if you have assimilated the Second Wave worldview, you are probably feeling a bit confused, wondering what I mean by “external.” Perhaps you are asking yourself what other reality there is. Of course “success” is defined in terms of tangible reality!

            The Second Wave world does not readily admit the existence of the “inner city” and the internal world each of us inhabits. Every bit as much as we live in the outer world of matter, we also live enmeshed in an inner world—what Jungians call the “inner city.”[2] In its materialism and positivism, the Second Wave world dismisses this inner reality as “subjective,” non-quantifiable, immaterial, and therefore bogus. But “waking up” and leap-frogging are centrally related to the inner world, with its very different notion of success.

Third Wave Definitions of Success

            The emerging Third Wave world has very different approaches to many aspects of life, and success is one of them. As I point out in many essays in this collection, Third Wave thinking returns often to the wisdom of the ancients that are embodied in the etymologies or root meanings of words. So let’s examine the linguistic roots of “success.”

            Our English word comes from two Latin roots: sub and cedere. The compound literally means “to go up, ascend, advance” (i.e. the Second Wave meanings), but also “to come under, submit to, follow, or enter into a relationship with.” “Huh?,” says the Second Wave thinker. “Success has nothing to do with following or submission!” Certainly not in the Second Wave world. But it has everything to do with it in the emerging Third Wave reality.

            This is because the Third Wave appreciates the inner life and the host of internal energies each of us can turn to for guidance and direction, and these are what we are meant to submit to and follow. As for entering into a relationship, what the ancient Vedic tradition (and later Carl Jung, who borrowed from the Vedas) call “the Self” (our Divine core) is the inner figure we relate to when we succeed.[3] The voice of The Force (heard via dreams, intuitions etc.) is what we are to follow.

            What does this Third Wave definition of “success” look like? It is not about externalities. It is not projected out, as Second Wave success is. By “projected out,” I mean that success is not defined in terms of tangible things, or other people’s opinions or evaluations. Therefore, it is not as vulnerable to being lost as Second Wave success is.[4] When success depends on what other people think, or on what one has, it can be very easily lost. Third Wave success is different: It arises from inner clarity, self-awareness, and a sense of personal identity. It has no need to compare self to others, but focuses on integrity and authenticity, i.e. being truly who we are and true to our own values and identity.

            Rather than striving for external forms of power (Second Wave forms that try to control others and get them to do one’s will) Third Wave success focuses on moving into one’s own inner power as an agent of The Force. Then it seeks to empower others by sharing this inner power in personal relationships (familial, workplace etc.).

            Rather than trying to get rich (seeking more and more money and possessions), Third Wave success focuses on developing personal talents, and aligning will, mind and effort to living out one’s unique mission in life. Jesus spoke of this when he referred to “seeking the kingdom of God.”[5] He reminded us that, if we put this seeking to be obedient to our inner guidance as our first priority, “all things would be added unto us.” That is, if we focus on being aligned with our true purpose, all our needs, like money, will be met. In the Third Wave view, genuine success means living free of fear of lack, free of the “poverty mentality” that so plagues most people in the Second Wave world.[6]

            Rather than status or advancement over others, Third Wave success takes the form of service. Again we can turn to Jesus as a guide here. He told his followers that true leaders are servants.[7] If you want to be “first” (tops in status) in the Third Wave world, you must be “first” in serving other people. “Success,” in other words, is not about putting yourself forward, but about putting others and their needs foremost in your thinking and actions, in ways that honor the divinity in both you and others.

            Rather than social prominence, the Third Wave form of success stresses the prominence of values. Having a worthwhile set of values, like integrity, courage, honesty, faith, hope, love, harmony, etc., and then living these out in daily life—this is genuine success.

            And finally, rather than seeking repute, or the gratification that comes from being seen as an “expert,” the truly successful person seeks to be creative, more than to be right or authoritative. Each of us is a co-creator with The Force. Each of us, therefore, has a responsibility to take up our own form of creativity and live it out. In the fulfillment of this charge lies our chances for inner peace, joy and personal growth, as well as for genuine success.

            Mother Teresa reminded us that we are not called to be successful: we are called to be faithful—faithful to our calling; faithful to our values; faithful to our inner voice; faithful to our unique creative “daimon;”[8] faithful to our individual identity. This way lies true success, even though (most likely) it will not be “success” as the Second Wave world defines it.

How Redefining Success Relates to Waking Up and Leap-frogging

            Part of what it means to “wake up” is going within, making the acquaintance of our inner characters, motivations, needs, and voice (intuition), and connecting to the Self (Divine core). Part of “waking up” means developing a personal set of values that are appropriate to our unique identity. This requires questioning the false, superficial values of the Second Wave world. Part of “waking up” involves discovering our special purpose or reason for living, our mission in life. Along this path lies our true success. If we are not awake to this, we cannot be truly “successful,” regardless of how much money, power, status, prestige etc. we attain.

            Part of “waking up” is moving out of fear and into love; out of anxiety and into trust; out of dis-ease and into wholeness. Success is all about love, trust, and striving toward wholeness.

            As for leap-frogging, it requires independence of thought to redefine success for ourselves and live it out. No one can really hope to “leap-frog” who feels constrained to operate within the Second Wave definition of success. This is because it is axiomatic that leap-froggers will face derision or skepticism. There will be lots of nay-sayers assuring them that they will fail; will not make a “go” of it; will not be successful. These people will care nothing for inner guidance. Even describing or talking about intuition, or inner voice, will set leap-froggers up for ridicule in some circles. Nor will most Second Wave people understand how leadership could take the form of servantship.[9] In other words, nearly everything a leap-frogger values, stresses, focuses on, or is motivated by, the Second Wave world will denigrate, dismiss or disparage. This means that the conventional definitions of “success” must be jettisoned. In their place, the definitions described above must be substituted. Doing so guarantees a much more valid and secure form of “success,” one that can never be lost, no matter what events may arise in outer reality.

Some Questions for Reflection

Think back to your youth. How did your family define “success”? Did your family put pressure on you to be “successful”? Were they concerned about your choice of career? marriage partner? circle of friends? Do you think parental concerns about such things were connected to the issue of success?

In terms of your own life, what would “success” look like for you, i.e. at the end of your life, looking back, what would you need to have done, or felt, or achieved, in order to regard your life as a “success”? How much of this is external (i.e. vulnerable to being taken away or lost)?

Based on your reading of this essay, are there elements of your definition of “success” that might need to be rethought or redefined?


For Further Reading

Edinger, Edward (1992), Ego & Archetype. Boston: Shambhala.

Eyre, Linda & Richard (1993), Teaching Your Children Values. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jung, Carl (1963 ) “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” Collected Works, 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

LaFerla, Ruth (2001), “Latest Economic Indicator: A Depression Doll is Hot,” The New York Times (January 7, 2001), ST 1,4.

Ponder, Catherine (1962), The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity. Marina del Rey CA: DeVorss Publications.


[1] This anonymous piece was given to me in late April 2001 by my aunt, Ruth Pray, who in turn got it from one of her friends. Anyone with information about authorship is requested to contact me so that I may acknowledge the author in future editions of this book.

[2] An entire publishing house is devoted to studies by Jungian analysts of this aspect of Jungian thought: Inner City Books, Box 1271, Station Q, Toronto, M4T 2P4, Canada.

[3] Submission to the Self is not easy: Jung noted that “The experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.”  (1963),  546.

[4] Whatever we project out can be taken away. Projection is almost universal in the Second Wave world. Nearly all of us project our power, for example, seeing some people with more power than we have, others with less. When we “project” our power this way, it becomes subject to being taken away—by the bully, the policeman, the judge, the politician. True power (the internalized kind) can never be taken away, no matter what we experience in outer life. See Edinger (1992), 143, for a thoughtful examination of the whole issue of projection.

[5] Matt. 6:33.

[6] This mentality operates under the scarcity model, with the belief that there is not enough for everyone. Because “mind is the builder,” holding this belief makes it so. See Ponder (1962) for a radically different, Third Wave approach to the issue of prosperity.

[7] Matt. 20:26-27.

[8] I define and describe the concept of “daimon” in “In the Grip of the Daimon,” in this collection of essays.

[9] Most business people in the Second Wave world of business will not understand “servant leadership,” but some will understand, thanks to the work of Robert Greenleaf, and the foundation he created. For information about the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, contact Larry Fidelius, 8433 Bailey Road, Darien IL 60561; (630) 969-4141; fax (630) 969-3376; e-mail:

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