Achieving Success or Being Successful

Phyllis Farias
5 min readJul 23, 2023


Something has been troubling me over a period of time. Something that I fear is affecting the future of this generation of children, adolescents, the youth and older people too. I also believe that it is a global issue. Let me share a few incidents that I have encountered.

At a parent orientation that I was addressing a few years ago, I started by asking, ‘What is success?’ The answers were generally to do with money, power and status. But one parent’s answer took me by surprise. He said, ‘I am the most successful person in this room.’ (There were at least about 500 parents in that audience, all of whom he couldn’t have known).

I asked him on what grounds was he being so categorical. He answered by saying that he was sure that he earned the highest — higher than anyone else. You could hear the silence in the hall at the sheer audacity and the arrogance of the man. I sensed that he wanted a debate on the issue and had to quickly divert the hijack of the objective of the orientation.

So yes, one of the major determiners of success in our world is Money and how much of it one has.

Here is a recent incident. An 18 year old girl who had just completed her 12th grade came to me for career counselling. It was evident that there was dichotomy in the career choice between her parents and her. In her 4th grade she had been diagnosed as having Specific Learning Disability and an average IQ. The mother gave up her job and both parents worked very hard with her. She secured above 85% in the 10th and above 80% in her 12th. Both parents had an IT background and wanted her to take up Software Engineering. This from a child who could not follow more than one instruction at a time. What was heart-breaking was that she wanted to know if her parents had cried during the counselling. When I asked her why they would cry? She said, ‘I cannot give them what they want.’

So yes, ‘Success’ is all about doing the ‘in career’ where she thought she could perhaps earn a crore a month. Incidentally, she did not know how many zeros there were in a crore.

Here are a few incidents which seem minor but could have far reaching consequences.

  • A child who pleaded for a medal on sports day, as ‘my mother said don’t come home without a medal.’
  • A ‘no holds bar’ argument with a teacher, that his son should have been the winner of the elocution competition. He just has to win every competition in which he participates.
  • A child, who spelt one word wrong in her dictation test, erased the correctly spelt word in her note book with the wrong spelling used in her test. Then she accused the teacher of not having corrected her notebook well and therefore she got the spelling wrong. Yes this actually happened!

So yes, success is all about ‘drawing room conversations’ and ‘Facebook posts’. Success is putting others down, success is getting it by all means — values do not matter. Success is all about achieving success vicariously through the success of the spouse and children.

Let me pause and ask you dear Reader — What is your definition of success?

Please think about it, and writing it down will be of great help. For, success should be determined by one’s own standards or measure.

Is it Money?

50 years ago, I taught a poem entitled ‘Money Madness’ by D H Lawrence. This was for the Final Practical Exam for my B.Ed. I still remember the opening lines:

‘Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.

And of course, if the multitude is mad

The individual carries his own grain of insanity around with him.’

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing wrong with money, we all need it. Only, let it not define who you are!

Is it to be Number One or a Topper?

It is perfectly fine to be happy because you are Number One or a Topper. The problem arises when schools and colleges, use their toppers to get more admissions and therefore more revenue.

In an earlier blog — ‘It’s raining centums.’ I had touched upon how the education system has turned away from teaching for competence and inquiry to getting unforgivable high percentages.

Industries protect their toppers as they make a lot of revenue because of them.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about being Number One, whether the richest man / woman in the world, the Number One bestseller, the Number One rank in an exam, the Number One seed at the Wimbledon and so on… Only, let it not define who you are!

Is it about fame and status?

The number of friends I have on social media, the number of likes for what I post. Fame and status is often earned and often thrust upon one by the very fact of the position one holds, the opportunities one gets. And as for social media — it is an amazing tool at the same time a space that people use to showcase the best of themselves — hardly ever the downside — the stress, the anxieties, the worries, the struggle to become successful through the eyes of others.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with fame and status. Only, let it not define who you are!

Is it about happiness?

This is a tricky one and quite intriguing! Do I feel happy on successfully completing / writing a blog? Or do I write the blog because I am happy and am not worried about its success?

Typically the Chicken and Egg story. And just like that story it may be difficult to know which comes first and which one is more important. Success and happiness seem to be inextricably connected. Incidentally, studies have shown that happy people tend to be successful across many aspects of life, most importantly in relationships.

Can I use my tag line — Only, let not happiness define you!

Yes, I would like to. Just to avoid the pressure of being happy all the time.

So what is SUCCESS really?

Two verbs show us the way to clarify the issue.

Achieving Success and Being Successful.

Achieving and Being — Achieving’ is all about reaching the destination to be considered successful. Most often these are goals portrayed by society.

On the other hand — ‘Being successful’ is a state of mind. It’s about appreciating what you have and what you are doing in the present. Being successful is about enjoying the journey. Success is a moving target. It also includes the falling and getting up.

It is being successful according to my own standards and measures.

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.’ — Maya Angelou

How true!!



Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology