I’ve decided, after many hours of careful contemplation, that I do not like the word ‘success’ and will attempt to avoid, after the completion of this essay, any further use of it in my writing and speaking.
My reasons for this exsection are as follows:
First, while the word’s antonym is definitive which implies a simplicity to its definition, we do not use the word ‘success’ in such a simple way. To explain, the word ‘good’ is easily defined by comparison to its antonym, ‘bad.’ Good and bad are such non-complex words, children learn them along with ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’ To be good implies something is ‘not-bad.’ To succeed is to ‘not-fail.’ Just as you can not help but use the word bad to help understand something good, you must use the word fail to understand success.
However, we use this seemingly simple word with massive amounts of complexity, with weighty contextuality. Compare the following sentences:
She is the successful mother of two charming and intelligent children.
He is the successful CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation.
Those two statements, when combined, or worse, compared, are enough to raise the voices and collective blood-pressure at any social gathering. They feed the pundits of the world with contrasting thoughts of ‘equality’ and ‘feminism’ who then spew their outraged opinions across the media outlets of the world.
One simple word with so much baggage.
My second problem with the word is in its implied singularity. While people can be good at many, many things, when we attempt to narrow down all they’ve done to one ‘success,’ we pick whatever we feel to be the biggest or most important achievement. Again, referring those two sentences above, the use of the word ‘successful’ implies that it is the only thing those people have done. The word denies the woman’s profitable art gallery showings as well as the man’s impressive collection of 1940’s comic-books, the aspects of their lives each is the most proud of, and worked the hardest to achieve.
You’ll notice, I hope, a certain word that I used twice in that last paragraph. The word ‘achieve.’ This is the word I plan to use from now on to supplant ‘success.’ Achieve has no definitive antonym. ‘Fail’ can be used in some contexts, but only where the goal is singular. For instance, one may fail to achieve the summit of a mountain. But even that example can be tempered in that the attempt itself was an achievement.
In the video gaming world, part of playing is winning (which involves ending the game), but another part – a more important part – is gathering the achievements along the way. Similar to the way the boy and girl-scouts earn merit badges. As they obtain a new skill, they sew a patch onto a sash for all the world to see. And what impresses the world is not the content of each individual badge, but the number of badges on the sash. Same in the gaming world. While each achievement represents a skill gained, or a puzzle solved or a monster slain, it is the total number of achievements that the player is proud of.
And to return, one last time, to the two people mentioned above, let me close with an image of the achievements adorning the sash of each. His has a CEO badge and badges for each level of comic-book collecting he has achieved. There is a badge there for ten years marriage, and one for the first purchase of a car. Her sash holds achievement badges for the births of each of her children, for each painting she’s completed and sold, for ten years of marriage and one for the first purchase of a house. With each life covered in achievements, versus defined by a single success, no comparison is possible.
And so we part, success and I. Goodbye limited, narrow-minded word, I’ll stick with my achievements from now on, and my life will be the fuller for it.