3 min read

What Is Success?

What Is Success?

We lack the tools that we need to make reasonable decisions for ourselves as we go through life. Traditional education doesn’t adequately prepare us to be in charge of our life, learning and work. Becoming a lifelong learner isn't innate, it's a learned process. This is especially true when we’re trying to determine our direction early in life.

Most people never have the time, space or tools to define what "success" means for them, and use that to make decisions for their life, learning and work. This is what careers education should be. BECOME’s tools enable children to define success for themselves and begin to think about how they can pursue those goals so they can be happier without following predefined paths.

You can't copy success

Girard’s Mimetic Theory describes how humans learn by imitating other members of the group. Sadly, this goes beyond children adopting skills and extends to desires as well. Early in life children build desires based on what those around them want. Their goals and ambitions in life are defined by the reality that they experience and the influences they are surrounded by. This narrows the territory for young people and leads to decision making shortcuts. Instead we should be teaching children how to think about their future from first principles. 

Realistically, this means stepping outside of preconceived notions of "success" and creating a new framework. In itself, this exercise will be difficult for people to go through regardless of their stage or station in life because they will be diverging from an existing set of belief structures.

Parents are the biggest influence, but no one is teaching parents to actively question what "success" is for their children. Careers Education could go further in this regard.

Rather than being dragged into defining success by the grades that  schools can measure, great schools are tackling the harder challenge of measuring skills acquired and applied in action by different students in different ways. This can be done with technology and enables young people to break out of their lane to pursue things that are meaningful to them.

Failing to actively participate in defining success means children never learn the tools to make conscious decisions that could eventually make them happy. Instead, they pursue false leads based on learned desires, which can lead to mid-career pivots or a life of perpetual misery as they keep up with the Jones’. Another drawback is that their territory (actual opportunity set) appears to be quite small because of the map (perceived opportunity set) that children are given.

Map vs Territory

Children who grow up in a small rural community struggle to understand what the world looks like outside of their visual field. Their vision of "success" is defined by the people and opportunities they see every day. Their map is small.

There is no need to accept a small map these days when technology enables people to do things that would have been unimaginable two decades ago. Technology enables children to see the territory. If we’re able to give them the tools, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to find a direction that’s aligned with their nature and become happy – which is generally what a parent wants for their child. 

This is one of the challenges that BECOME addresses with its unique platform, giving all young people visibility of the territory, no matter who they are or where they are.

BECOMing Happier

A Pew Research study was conducted to understand what parents believed were the most important values for their children to learn. Put another way, the traits that were necessary to ensure that their children were successful. 

Responsibility, Hard work, and Empathy were at the top of the list.

However, what do people typically ask their children when they get home from school? “What did you learn today?” If parents truly believed that responsibility and empathy were some of the most important characteristics, they should be asking “What was something nice that you did today?” 

There’s a mismatch between what parents define as "success" for their children and how they measure that success by the signals that they give to them. If a parent is constantly asking about grades, then those grades become the primary yardstick by which the child will measure themself. 

This leads to an over-emphasis on standardized testing, one-size fits all teaching, a narrow curriculum, and demonizing failure. For younger children, test scores can fluctuate depending on the day of the week that they take the test.

Instead of encouraging children to meet abstract external measures of success that are imposed on them, there should be more focus on exploration and development of cognitive skills. Children engaged in “deep play” tend to develop more self-direction, intrinsic motivation, imagination, process orientation, and positive emotions. These factors sound remarkably similar to the list above that parents believe are the most important values for their children to develop. 

Education leaders are aware of this as well and are working hard to turn the ship around. Moving from 'teaching what can be measured' to 'measuring what we should teach' is a difficult transition to make. Parents can be a driving force by being open to different definitions of success, rather than seeing success as a function of a quality assurance system.


One of the things I have consistently found from reading biographies of those that have achieved some level of financial success in their lives is that they wish they had spent more time with their children or family. On their death bed, no one ever wished they had spent more time creating a PowerPoint.

Revisiting Girard’s Mimetic Theory: if instead of pursuing acquisitive mimesis objects (grades, wealth, status, etc.), we encourage children to pursue non-acquisitive mimesis (learning, fulfilment, challenge etc.) then it’s more likely that they will be able to achieve the lofty measures of success that they can set for themselves. 

Have you decided what success means to you or did you let the world decide for you?


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