Why Our Definition of Success Is Wrong

Aaron Pace
4 min readSep 4, 2022
Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

“I will read 10 pages in any book every day.”

That was one of my New Year’s resolutions. My only other resolution was not to make any other resolutions.

I love reading. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. So, 10 pages a day would be easy.

We often look at the world in a binary way: on-off, right-wrong, easy-hard, success-failure.

From a binary viewpoint, I failed. My goal was to read 10 pages per day, and I didn’t do it. The first day I missed meant failure because my goal was every day. “Did you read everyday?” No, so the binary check fails.

It’s a simplistic example, of course, but we measure success and failure in our lives far too often in exactly that way:

  • Failure at weight loss because we give into a food temptation. This often results in giving up because we failed; doesn’t even matter how many times.
  • Failure at learning a new skill because we make a mistake applying what we thought we knew. Again, this can often result in giving up.
  • Failure as a partner or friend because of a big argument.
  • Failure as a parent because a child doesn’t turn out how we hope.
  • Failure as an employee because of an expensive mistake.

There are relatively few instances in life where taking the binary approach is the right one. As the recent issues with the Artemis launch have demonstrated, there are checks and balances in place to prevent disaster.

For every other situation, however, a binary view of the world is not only wrong but harmful.

I didn’t read 10 pages every day, but I did do it many days. A conservative estimate is about half the number of days so far this year. That means, I’ve read around 1,220 pages.

The 2001 reprinting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Return of the King” (one of my favorite books) is 340 pages (excluding the appendices). I’ve read 3.6 times that many pages this year.

The inherent problem in the way we often view success is that success is only the destination, and if we don’t make the destination then we’ve failed.

--

--

Aaron Pace

Married to my best friend. Father to five exuberant children. Fledgling entrepreneur. Writer. Software developer. Inventory management expert.