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What is Success? The Secret of Success is...

Updated on March 11, 2014

Storyteller Tusitala Tom in 2012

The Secret of Success is...

Way back in the mid 1980s I heard an audio tape by the late Earl Nightingale – the man with the beautiful speaking. Earl Nightingale spoke about Success. He pointed out how if you took a typical one hundred American men at twenty-five years of age they would all be eager, confident and ready to take on and succeed in life. However, only one-in-twenty would make it. One would become rich. Four would be able to live comfortably off their investments in retirement. The remainder would fall short of their dreams – some by a very long way. He also gave a definition of success which I think is the best I’ve ever heard. Nightingale said: “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” He then explained this further and one of the things he said was that “The moment that idea comes to mind and is written down as a goal to be achieved, that man is already a success.” And this makes sense, for the journey has begun and therefore ‘progressive realization’ is underway.

Take the time to smell the roses

What is success?

How many of us think of success this way? We see success as actually reaching a goal. We reach the goal and we have succeeded – or have we? Perhaps for a few seconds, or minutes, or hours, depending upon the feelings that well up in us at the time we experience this success. The feeling is the thing. Then, within a short period – perhaps as things fall into perspective – we’re already having uneasiness within; we need another goal, another success to strive for. Note that word ‘strive,’ for it indicates that we’re not particularly enjoying the journey. It infers unpleasant work. We don’t see the journey as Earl Nightingale describes it as a ‘Success Journey.” No, the goal-seeking is often a desire which causes us a certain amount of mental disturbance, of longing and yearning for something to be when in cannot be for it is in the future. We want to arrive at that point but it has not yet reached us…or we have not reached it.

Are you striving towards a goal...and missing the Now moment?

Many people go through their entire lives like this. They strive to do well academically so they can get a good job. They get the good job and strive to move up the ‘corporate ladder.’ They strive to make more money. They strive to buy a bigger car, home, pleasure boat. They have short moments of what you might call pleasure – the feelings which come from a momentary triumph, only to have it quickly overshadowed by another want.

And the aggapanthas for that matter

Dwell often in that 'Attitude of Gratitude'

This is not to put down going after things we desire. It is simply to make the reader realize that with too much emphasis placed upon the getting rather than on the having, we find ourselves living a life of continuing frustration and a lack of joy. We need to look around us much more often than we do and contemplate the gifts which have been given us. Appreciation, gratitude – when these feelings well up in us often and spontaneously - we are much more in tune with the way we should be. Our ego-mind covers us over, dictating that we need this and that to be content. Our verbal thoughts are endlessly busy telling us what we need to be happier, or what we need to avoid to be happier. If we can but stop the ceaseless verbal-chatter of our thoughts and be quiet for a moment we find that we are at peace.

How many of us know how to experience that? Try it now. See how long you can hold your mind in complete silence.

Can't keep your focus free of verbal clutter?

Rebelling, is it?

Don’t feel too bad. It generally takes persistent efforts of continually bringing that recalcitrant verbal chatter - which signifies an ego-self that wants its own way – over and over and over to heel before it eventually gives in and starts to behave. Patience and persistence is needed…patience and persistence.

Enjoy what is. If you reject what is you're rejecting your life

You're the boss - not your mind. Take charge!

As it was put to me by the late S.N. Goenka, teacher of Vipassana Meditation, “Our mind is like a wild beast; like a wild elephant that wants its own way. It can do a lot of damage and harm. But when the beast is tamed and trained, it becomes a mighty tool in the hands of the mahout who rides on its back.” It can now do lots and lots of work that the man – now in charge of it - could not do before the elephant was trained. But our minds are far more powerful that the largest and strongest of elephants. Its powers are boundless!

Do not identify with what you are not

Eckhart Tolle’s two wonderful bestselling books, The Power of Now, and A New Earth explain in great detail, and in far more sophistication than my own explanations here. But what Eckhart Tolle is saying I will say in my own words:

We make the mistake of identifying the ‘elements of our mind and body’ with who we really are.

There is a time for everything...

There is only one constant in your life - You!

We believe we are our sensations, our impulses and desires. We believe we are our feelings and sensations, our imaginations and our verbal thought, even our intuition. This last, I add, is closest to the real us. It’s our direction from ‘on high.’ We do not realize that these mind-elements are OF us but are not us. The essential us is something else again, something which is constant and never changing. That something which looked out on the world when we were infants and saw then, and which looks out and still sees when we’re old and grey, is us. That which sees, observes, but does not name, label, judge and refer to memory to make a statement about what is seen, that is the real us, the never-changing Observer, the Witness, the Experiencer to the goings on of our body and our mind-elements.

Know the peace that passeth all understaning - be still

A self-image is just image! It isn't you

Doctor Roberto Assagioli, in his book, An Act of Will, clearly depicted in diagrammatic form how we fit into the centre of these mind-elements – if I might put it that way. We are a centre of awareness with a will, was the way Assagioli put it. But we need to differentiate between our real will and the urgings of our ego mind-elements. The mind elements have over time created a conglomerate of thought-forms in which they have evolved an identity with a will which claims to be us. It places this identity into our consciousness. Of course it is simply an idea. An idea is an amorphous, nebulous, largely intangible, something without any real foundation. This ursurper is what many of us think we are. We identify with it so much of the time. But it certainly is not us. It is from this ‘house built on sand’ that most of us run our lives.

The journey really IS the thing

Returning now to Earl Nightingale and his definition of success. If we ignore the word ‘progressive’ in this definition our problems begin to manifest. Our desires become a bottomless pit that cannot be filled. There are fleeting moments of happiness interspersed with long, long periods of wanting. If we lose what we’ve got we’re subject to much grieving over the loss. There is also fear of losing what we do have. This is clinging, and wanting. Grieving and clinging are not conducive to happiness. So we need to take notice of Nightingale’s ‘progressive realization.’ The journey is the thing. The journey, of course, includes every step along the way. And in each step we are there, in The Now, the only moment any of us ever get.

And once again...take time to smell the roses

We need to accept that in this very moment we are successful

The Now is right now. It is not the moment arriving soon, or in two weeks or two decades. It is not the story of our life which has now past; be our thoughts about that story from a day earlier or fifty years ago. The only moment we ever have is right now so if we want to be successful we need to accept that in this very moment we are successful. To do this we need to be able to stay in the now. We need to be able to will it. Expecting a good moment of success every now and again as we reach a goal is not going to bring much joy into our lives. It needs to become our habitual way of living. It needs to be automatic.

All we need is a purpose and the faith that we can achieve it

Nightingale quotes from the Christian Bible, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” He then says that all we really need is “a purpose and faith that we can achieve it.” So we need to be clear that our purpose is taking us towards a worthy ideal. It needs to be inspirational. Oh, and remember, an ideal is different from an idea. An idea can become a goal and can be reached, but an ideal is perfection and something we can work happily towards all our lives, gradually realizing it on the way but never ever reaching the end. So think big on this! Go for the very greatest that you can imagine – and keep on imagining even greater and greater outcomes as these imaginings turn into your reality. Most important, however, is to be aware of the Now moment as much as you can. After all, this is where you are spending your life.


Submit a Comment

  • Tusitala Tom profile imageAUTHOR

    Tom Ware 

    4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Thank you Annart. Your comments always make me feel good.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    4 years ago from SW England

    Yes, many of us spend such a lot of time looking forward that we miss what is in front of us to be enjoyed, appreciated and learnt from. We miss enjoying the feelings of 'the moment'.

    This is an interesting definition of success. A writer should inform and provoke thought and that is what you do so well. Ann

  • Tusitala Tom profile imageAUTHOR

    Tom Ware 

    4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    graceinus, you are so right.

    Willstarr, always good to hear from you.

  • WillStarr profile image


    4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    This is a beautiful and inspiring work, Tom. Well done.

  • profile image


    4 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

    I think my Dad has a good dscription of success in his following quote:

    " Your success is not measured in the position you hold, nor the education you have, nor the possessions you own. Your success is measured in those whose lives has been made better because of you."

    Hove a good day


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