Success Is A Lie

Dogs are natural Zen masters; they do not need success.

This is part three of the ‘Ask @dailyzen series’ where you ask me questions and I write a post responding to them. I don’t really claim to have straight-up “answers” but hope this will turn into a dialogue that can benefit both of us in some way.

Today’s question:

“What is success?” (asked by @irishintrovert)

I’m going to keep this one short— success is a lie. Let’s think about it for a second. What does it mean to be successful? Success means the fulfillment of a goal or ambition. You want a hole in one, and you shoot a hole in one, and therefore you successfully shot a hole in one. You want $200,000 a year, and you spend 20 or 30 years working hard, and then you make $200,000 a year.

And so, in a simple sense, success is saying “I want to do X” and then doing X. People have been setting goals and achieving them for quite some time, and will continue to do so. A caveman can set a goal. The world runs on people who are scurrying around frantically trying to ‘live their dream’ and ‘achieve their goals’. But success is not a stasis; it’s not some sort of be-all end-all destination point. It’s like the steak you hold in front of a wild beast on a treadmill. You just keep chasing it but it’s not something you ever really reach. If you rely on externalities for your happiness, outside of basic food, shelter and love, you will run into a seemingly infinite degree of complications.

As they say, “When you get there, there’s no “there” there.” And so, allow me to repeat: success is a lie. Ambition is suicide. Desire is vanity, etc, etc, you get the idea.

Success is a lie simply because it relies on attachment. You must bet X amount of time on some sort of outcome. You either achieve the outcome or you don’t. If you achieve it, you feel satisfied briefly and then must forge a new future attachment to bet more time on, like a problem gambler. If you don’t achieve it, you feel like a failure. Sounds like a lose-lose situation to any sane person. And yet people continue to convince themselves that their convoluted goals and ambitions are worth sacrificing the world’s resources, personal contentment, relationships— even basic health. People will work jobs that ruin them mentally and physically just to excel towards something that no human has ever attained through materialism: a state of true contentment.

“Success” means shunning notions of success, wealth, fame, and all that, and looking within. Whatever makes you feel successful is already in your monkey brain; it’s just waiting to be teased out by mindfulness and proper mental discipline. Work on yourself, look within, and stop trying to beat the piñata of the world into giving you a few ephemeral pieces of candy.