A Touch of Greatness and Success: A Different Definition

The New Year draws rapidly closer; people are starting to set their goals and resolutions – they’re looking for something, and very often this involves what we call success.

But the strange thing is: For many, the definition of success relies on the failure of other people.

Is this true for you? Please read on.

Competition and Comparison

“Wealth any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of ones wifes sisters husband.”
~ H.L. Mencken.

This is how many minds operate: constantly comparing and judging others. How are they doing? Are they prettier, are their biceps bigger, are they richer, is their car bigger?

This mindset is a bottomless pit – we can never find satisfaction in it. Our income increases by $20,000; it might make us ecstatic. But soon, we see Fred from across the street – his car is still bigger! He has what we have, but he got it all at a younger age! And so we resume our struggle. It never ends; we move from thousandaire to millionaire; and then shortly after, we think that’s not enough; now we want to be a billionaire.

When I started amateur boxing many years ago, I was constantly comparing myself to others – and it made me very upset. My technique was better than the other beginners, and that made me feel good. But they had more power than I did, and I resented that. My feet were faster, I moved better, and that made me proud. But I had a lot of fear to overcome, and I hated it when I saw the others fearlessly swarm into battle.

This constant comparison is the cause of much of our unease. But if you look closely, if you are honest, there’s another factor involved. This mindset depends on the stamping down of others. For us to be superior, to be considered a success, others have to fail, to be inferior.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t aim for goals, or strive for excellence in our chosen field. I don’t think it’s even wrong to want to be rich. But there’s a subtle difference in aiming to be good and aiming to be better than others; aiming to be rich and aiming to be richer than others.

The Alternative

Does your definition of success include the failure of those around you? Wanting a business that makes money is very different from wanting a business that makes the most money. Wanting to be a good writer is different from wanting to be the best writer.

Years ago, I was complaining to my friend about how the other boxers were stronger and braver than I was. “Why bother with them?” he replied. “Just do your own thing. Just keep practicing and learning – and you’ll do fine.”

How true! Comparison is a waste of our energy. It does nothing to help our efforts, and we’re just pouring energy and time into all these useless endeavours.

Whatever you are applying yourself to, simply focus on doing it well. Focus on the only step you can take – the one you are taking now. Forget the past; forget the future; forget the others.

I read a story once; one that is probably untrue if you ask a developmental psychologist – but it proves a point well.

If babies could compare, the story goes, then only a small percentage of us would be walking as adults; the rest would have given up a long time ago. When babies learn to crawl, walk, and run, they are purely focused on the act itself. They don’t look around and compare, and get depressed – that baby is cuter, that baby is already walking, and look! That one is already running!

Success means the present moment

This is the funny thing – if we don’t aim for recognition and financial rewards, they are far likelier to come. Eckhart Tolle said it perfectly in A New Earth: fame and prosperity are usually the by-products of success. But they are not success itself.

Success is bringing quality into the very action you are taking right now. Quality means bringing the utmost care and attention into every action. We’ve discussed that the present moment is the only moment we have; and therefore success simply comes from putting our heart into whatever we are doing right now.

This was something I struggled to understand; so perhaps it would be easier to look at the opposite.

How many of us are bringing quality into our work? On a mundane level, our minds are always distracted. Even as I write this, I am thinking of lunch, I am scratching my neck, I am looking forward to going out tonight.

On a deeper level, many people simply hate what they are doing. They simply go through the motions. Money is their usual motivation – there is no joy in what they do.

Others are constantly working through their ego. They work to prove they are smarter, better, more accomplished. They want to look good in front of their peers. Others contaminate their work with petty squabbling, backstabbing, and arguing.

So many directions! Our attention is always being pulled in this and that direction, never focused. A light bulb, and not a flashlight; how can quality come out of that?

If this is you, then simply find something else, something you can throw yourself whole-heartedly into. But this is easy to say, hard to do. If you can’t leave, then do your best to change your attitude – let your actions come from a state of acceptance, of non-resistance.

This lack of quality is evident even in things we deem mundane. I remember a few years ago, when I was in a food court in Asia with my friend. We ordered a local delicacy: a mish mash of vegetables, dipped in a spicy sauce. A simple matter to make – just chopping and mixing, but my friend frowned as he watched the food being prepared.

“She’s got no heart in it. She hates her job. I doubt it will taste good,” he said. And he was right.

Success, then, comes from being intensely focused in the present moment; making whatever action you are doing into your very life purpose.

The secondary purpose

But isn’t there always another purpose to everything we do? When I work, even if I love it, isn’t paying the bills a part of it?

Tolle explained this perfectly – everything else is just a secondary purpose; one that doesn’t have to take up any unnecessary attention. I am walking to the kitchen to get myself a cup of coffee – the coffee is secondary, the act of walking itself is my primary purpose.

The value of this is obvious. If I go out on a date, my secondary purpose might be to charm her into being my girlfriend. But if I was to be fully present and enjoying myself, having fun – that moment will be infused with as much quality and joy as possible, making the secondary purpose far likelier.


Which brings the topic to greatness, an extension of the same logic.

We have a tendency to think that greatness somehow just comes. We wake up one day and we are great. It’s almost as if we are waiting for that one magical event or moment in time.

This mindset can lead us into wasting our lives. We think we can save our effort, our quality-infused present moment, for when opportunity knocks on our door.

But as the saying goes: we make our own opportunities. If we don’t put in effort now, when can we do it? Now is the only moment we have.

If you are not in an endeavour you want to be in, do your best anyway. Let the quality in your actions make you bigger than the role you are currently in. That is how we advance; that is how we are led into something we do want.

This is an extension of the same logic we have been discussing the entire post – there is no one event that becomes great. Greatness comes from persistent quality even in the most mundane actions.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
~ Muhammad Ali

Did Ali’s greatness come from those brief hours he fought in the ring? Did he just come out of nowhere, and win the title and steal the hearts of millions of fans?

His greatness came, as he said, “far away from witnesses”. He poured himself into every moment, even when no one was watching – in the gym, running in the streets, making the sacrifices that all boxers have to.

Greatness comes from living each moment as if it was the only moment that exists; and in actuality – it is.

Life and Music

Time to take a break from the usual link love at the end of the posts. Instead, Id like to present a very relevant video on how to live our lives. It is based on a teaching by Alan Watts, and if that wasnt enough, its a cartoon by the people behind South Park.