Success, like other things, is quantitative. We can have many successes in one day. If our purpose is to reach a door knob, and we reach it, we have been successful. If our purpose is to swallow a potato, and we do that, we have been successful.
One thing that has to be present in success is purpose. If we aim at a target and hit it, this can be considered success; but if we aimed at a tree, and hit a target in the center (even if this were commended by bystanders), we would not have success; for our purpose was something else.
It also follows that if we are successful in small purposes, and our largest purpose is not reached, then we have not had the success of self. For a self to be successful, two requirements, it is clear, must be met: One, that the self have a purpose truly representing it, or "covering" it; two, that this purpose be attained. If a self has a purpose not adequate to the self, and reaches it, we can say there was some success; but not the success of self.
Therefore, the first purpose of a self should be to have a purpose adequate to it. If a person doesn't have this, he from the start is that much welcoming what isn't success. He can be said to have reached China in a blaze of glory, when he intended to get to Australia; he can be said to have shot a bird, when his purpose was to hear a bird sing.
Truly, success is a matter of being able to do as we want to do. And so we have to find out what we want to do. This is indispensable. To do something else than what we want to do, is to be off the track, even though the path we choose has banners on both sides of it.
A self either goes after purposes representative of it, or it doesn't. If it achieves purposes not representative of it, then it has really been impelled not by what it is, but by something else. How can a self be successful in not doing what it wants to do? And how can a self be successful when it accepts a lesser as against a larger purpose or want; something accidental as against something primary?
All success in the customary sense has something of true success in it. A man doesn't go after fame, or political power, or money, or houses, or compliments, or power over others, if he doesn't feel that this is what he wants. These manifestations of purpose are indications of the deepest purpose.
A man has power over thousands of people. His self then has some kind of largeness, diversity. People seem to approve of him, and this serves as evidence for self-approval. He is regarded with esteem, conspicuously, constantly, multifariously. His own body and the individuality that goes with it, are abroad; he is approved of by many people, people in many places.
If such a man feels deeply and outwardly that he has done as he wants, that he has seen his purpose, and the purpose has come to be—he has success. In the fame, or prestige, or power that this man has, there is some presence of true success. Yet if this famous person cannot say: "Through this, my self in its wholeness has got what it wants, is successful"—then, that much, he does not have success.
Success implies knowledge of ourselves as successful. The self wants to have that knowledge, for the self wants to approve of what it is: and without knowledge, it can't.
Consequently, success for a person is not had until that person knows what he's after most deeply, gets what he's after most deeply, and knows that he has it. This does mean that a person has to be a philosopher, know himself, and feel that knowing himself is his desire, and a pleasurable one.
There must be intention with success. We don't think that a mighty wind or the many star-having sky or the grandly doing ocean are successful, because we don't give the wind the intention of being mighty, the sky of having many stars, the ocean of doing grandly. Further, where intention is weak, success is that much lessened. Success is great in proportion as there is a complete embodiment of a complete desire. Desire is complete as much as it is will; that is, as much as it is known, and liked, being known. If we haven't wanted to do a thing very much, and we still are "successful" in doing it, the success has important limitations.
There are three general elements in true success: Ourselves, all the specific things we meet, and the world generally. When a combination of these occurs such as the self truly wants, success has taken place. Every other kind of success of self is an indication only; also present may be a lessening of self, a corruption, and a dissatisfaction.
© 1945 by Eli Siegel