Mumma… What is success?

umm… I am not sure how to answer this one. Of course I want my kids to have a successful life – but what really constitutes a successful life? Money? Position? Fame? Happiness? Contentment? Satisfaction? All of these? Some of these? What is a life well lived? Is that the same as being successful?

I asked my peer group what they thought and got some interesting responses. Most agreed that the definition of success varies from person to person and at different points of life. Some said it is a mental state. Some said being happy and content is success. Some others said being successful means using oneself to their full potential. Yet another view was to not compare with others and live for oneself.

I agree and follow most of the above. But that’s not the full picture. Material achievements also matter to me. As I think back on my own life – I can see that things like money or possessions got added to my list of desires much later in life. As a student, it never mattered what marks others got – I had my own targets and parameters. At one point in my life, it didn’t matter whether or not I made money or owned a big house. So then what happened? Marriage and family commitments? Or a society that counted only material success?

I still remember, very early in my career, at a batch get together, the first question a batch mate asked was whether I had bought a car or not! And hastily, almost defensively I had explained that we had invested in a house first and will buy a car next year 🙂 It was also common to hear batch mates discuss who is doing well and who is not. The discussion would almost always boil down to salary packages and positions.

As a society, Indians seem to value only material achievements. (A total contrast to the image of us as spiritual beings and India being the land of spirituality!!) One is considered successful, if earning more than peers or wielding more power than them. Simple.

When parents measure success – their own, or of other people, or their kids’ through only material attributes, the same is consciously or subconsciously fed into the minds of our children and also feeds into our expectations of them. Moreover, constant comparison teaches the child to measure her success against others.

Things may have changed in the last few generations – but when I read news reports about children committing suicide or even trying to murder younger children to avoid exams or PTMs – I really wonder about the extent of this change.

A few generations ago – academics were the only way to a good job and therefore success – anything else that was remotely risky was discouraged – arts, entrepreneurship, sports. Engineers, doctors, Govt services were the preferred career choices – all safe bets. MBA got added to the list as  high pay packages were heard of. Now some sports such as cricket, tennis, badminton – but only those where some level of success has been demonstrated. A cricket academy will still be more popular than a football academy. Creative careers are also coming up slowly – but not fast enough. And entrepreneurship? Barely raising the bar there – other than perhaps the IT start ups – and that’s because they attract capital. Talent? Only if it helps to make money or gets fame at least. What about strugglers? I don’t think anyone wants to even talk about them. It is telling when Steve Wozniak says success in India is academic excellence and a good job. He compares a small country like New Zealand that has so many singers and athletes to a large country like India that barely makes a dent in the creative space.

In this discussion, I think of my dad. He was a very bright mind -an inventor who must have developed dozens of products, patented some, even developed board games and card games and wrote books and short stories. On top of that a great human being,  a great dad. But unfortunately no marketer. And hence an unsuccessful businessman. If one looks at his whole life I would consider it a life well lived – but a lot of people around him would probably just brand him unsuccessful.

So what is a successful life for me? At the end of my life – I would want to be happy and content and have as few regrets as possible. Happiness and contentment would come to me with a successful career, having enough money to live a comfortable life, see the world, some solid relationships, and strong and secure children. And this is what I would like to tell my children too.

And how do I raise a strong and secure child?

  • Value the person he is – and teach him to value himself (that does not mean going ga ga over every little thing he does :-D)
  • Help him excel in his area of capability – no point trying to fit a square into a round. Otherwise we are creating a recipe for disaster.
  • Teach him the value of hard work and the importance of struggle. Unfortunately there is too much instant gratification nowadays and I am guilty of that too.
  • Appreciate his failures as well and guide him to learn from those. (I regret every time I lose my patience when he fails – I am also learning)
  • Have a strong relationship with him – he will automatically have strong relationships later in life. (I think we are doing pretty well in that area!)
  • Mould him according to the person he is: a laidback child – teach him the importance of hard work; a very hard working child or achievement oriented – teach him to relax sometimes and learn to fail; a perfectionist – teach him not to find fault with others and so on…
  • Tell him that comparison is a tool to be used only selectively
  • Let him arrive at his own definition of success and what he wants to achieve in life. Guide him, but do not tell him what he should do. (I think that was the BEST thing my parents did for us – always let us find our way)

That is quite a long list and I hope I don’t forget these as I bring up our children! Do share your tips as well!



  1. Well said Sakshi! You have done in a few words what many are still trying to find an answer to. I agree, success should be left at – to each his own.
    In the end on a broader perspective – a life worth lived, filled with as many happy memories and as little remorse, and enjoyed to the fullest with ones near and dear – sums up success for me.
    Here’s to being successful in all that we do, and to die with contentment in our hearts! Cheers!

    • Thanks! Yes – it should be to each his/her own – the constant comparison needs to go.

  2. Great that I found you resonating with me.
    Almost every day I try to find the definition of success and every day I get a New definition. And that reflects the confused state of mind that I have at the age of 43.

    Taking cue from ur narration ,For my 10 year old daughter I would like to impart the ability to be herself.

    Thanks for sanitizing.

    • Thanks a lot for your comment! and yes – the definition of keeps changing for all of us – I guess ultimately at the end if we are happy and content with our decisions and achievements – we have made it.

  3. Success is emphemeral, achievements are not. Yet being a high achiever does not translate itself to being successful, especially if one sets one’s goals too high. Whatever one achieves seems to fall short of one’s expectations. And in any case this does not relate to happiness. Happiness or joy can be found in the simple things of life, for me seeing my grandchild smile, or a flight of parrots in the sky, or the smell of the rain washed earth. I was as happy( or unhappy ) when we had a second hand Fiat as I was when we had a new BMW. Success, at least financial success can buy comforts, which I admit is also very necessary in life, for one does not have to worry about paying electricity bills, home loans or school fees. As for success each of us have to set our own standards. While my husband and I, pretty driven about academic excellence insisted on our children aiming to be in the top three, the children responded by saying that they would be happy to be among top ten. When we wanted our son to make it to IIM, he responded by saying that he would be happy to make it among the top ten business schools. I think in the long run it is society which tries to determine whom it deems successful, but a person who decides whether he is happy or not.

    • Thanks! I love your last sentence! This is it – the society deems one successful – we decide on our happiness! The problem comes when we start to derive our happiness from what the society deems.

  4. Very well written. I share many of your thoughts. Especially the one about instant gratification and going gaga over every small thing 🙂
    That is a trap most parents fall for and can really put things out of perspective for a child. This will be of great help to many people.

    • Yes true – from being encouraging – some parents have moved to being overly encouraging or rewarding. Makes a child completely lose perspective.

  5. Very aptly written.. Success does matter.. But what does it mean? .. Best part is how to orient kids towards it.. May be our kids can find further new meanings of success in their times.. Choosing their own occupation or their own life style.. But come what may Success must be Enjoyed how so ever small is the achievement.. Kudos! Sakshi for the perspective :). – – bij

  6. Very nicely articulated. It resonated with me so much and truly captures the yardstick we follow as a society to be successful. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more such posts.

  7. As someone who is just about to start his career, I have often tried asking this question to myself. I agree that most of us have our own definition of success but seldom do we respect the view and definition of others. I think the biggest impediment to success for today’s youth is instant gratification and it is not just the youth who is to be blamed for this. Peer group, societal values, materialistic desires have created a mindset where failure and a longer gestation period is seen as a strict no-no. I often wonder how did some of the renowned entrepreneurs, sportspersons, academicians etc. have the patience to stick to their heart without having to worry about the society and people around them. All I wish is to develop this art of patience and learning from failures.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. .. true that about wanting instant success. … and part of it also comes from societal pressures and the need to prove oneself. Self worth starts to get defined by the material possessions.

  8. Well said, Sakshi . For me, success is achieving the goals I set for myself. And that they keep changing, is just natural process of evolving. Material success is just an outcome , I think. It follows if you enjoy doing what you do. Or if you keep the earnestness high. Or in other words, life is about organic growth. Having something to smile about everyday… In pain or in happiness. There is nothing that we can teach our kids…they are watching, processing, learning.

    • Thanks for your thoughts shilpi! I like your last sentence a lot. Watching processing learning!

  9. Dear sakshi wonderfully defined success from various angles. Everyone has his own perception. It Will definitely give food for thought. Keep on writing and dedicating to subodh bhaia. Richie

  10. Hello babhi very nicely u wrote a real meaning of Success and u express those values that we should give to our child. Very nicely express ur blog is full of lesson which give us insperasion and msg to us. It’s a full of positive approach.
    With regards

  11. Again an excellently articulated write up on something which people of all ages struggle with. I totally agree that “success” has different meaning at different times of one’s life. The meaning of success to me, is to be able to realize one’s Purpose in life and working to achieve the Purpose. That’s the most self-liberating meaning of success that I have found so far!!
    It’s an abstract concept which maybe difficult for kids to fathom. Instead what we can do is to sensitize the kids to the fact that we are much more than just the physical being with an intellect. It is the spirit within which when ignited can achieve the impossible. And also the path to ignite one’s spirit and thereby realizing one’s purpose is unique for each and full of pitfalls or trial and errors. So they should understand that the road to success is a series of falls and failures. But if they have the “grit” to keep getting up each time they fall and keep continuing on the journey, they will slowly realize their purpose and thereby success.
    I feel one of the most important thing that the kids need to be coached on is developing “grit”!!

  12. Beautiful blog Sakshi! This is probably the most complicated and tough question to answer. To me, the answer is not just individualistic but also to do with the family one is born into and the friends one has..i also keep changing with time – as we grow and understand ourselves and life a little better. This merits a long chat over lunch!

  13. Thought provoking elucidation indeed Sakshi!
    I think direction is more needed than speed to achieve success.
    Looking forward for more such interesting blogs.

  14. A long read.
    Some things you can control. Some things you cannot. Some things you should not.
    Two things work for me -Do what you like, and take everything else with a pinch of salt.

  15. Defination of Success is quite distorted in our life. We rely on counting materialistic things as a degree of success. And things that it should be valued is expressed well in the post. As a parent I am glad to see myself echoing your voice

  16. I like the topics you pick for writing and the way you put the point qcracr is great. If a person is happy, can sleep peacefully and is surrounded by loved ones is successful for me.

  17. Success is subjective and thought of differently by everyone. Kids are curious to learn more on different topics. Raising a strong and secure child should be parents ultimate goal.

  18. A balanced article, Sakshi. The parameters and definition of success are different for each person and change with changing age and time. But it is something that excites you in doing what you do and gives you a life you can feel proud of!

  19. Sakshi, these pointers of success are resonating with me corely. One cannot define success as it is very subjective and has different meaning in life. I would say success is something that makes you happy when you look at your past years.

  20. Very valuable read especially the last part buddy where you recommend how to raise our little ones of the right understanding of success

  21. Success is subjective yet we often find people judging others on parameters that aren’t probably as important to us. What matters is that we raise our kids to become happy and content achievers in whatever they choose to do.

  22. You know, I believe it’s just not Indians; in any economy and society, the primary parameter of someone’s monetary success is his/her material possessions. But that isn’t wrong at the initial stages of your career. Nobody asks how many times did you go to temple after starting the job. It’s the material gain people are after. Isn’t money the ONLY factor behind finding a good or a better job?

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