“I don’t like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work--the chance to find yourself. Your own reality--for yourself not for others--what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.” -Heart of Darkness
How do you define the word ‘successful?’ This question comes up a lot in the world of self-improvement and interpersonal growth. Does success mean having money, fame, good looks, family, friends, physical abilities, mental clarity, or spiritual calmness? Is success based on how many people you help or how many people will attend your funeral and say good things about you? For most of us success involves a combination of complex factors and using one metric to scale them all seems a bit like wishful thinking. I would argue that there is more value to finding such a metric than you would otherwise think. Allow me to explain.
To paraphrase Nietzsche, everyone is both who they currently are, and who they can become, meaning that our current accomplishments and our potential hold equal weight when considering our success. In other words, success is not static. It is constantly changing based on the potential resources available to every person. Someone with ample wealth and opportunity who squanders their gifts could still be considered a “failure” even if they managed to accomplish things that other, less fortunate people would view as successful. The billionaire who decides to settle into a millionaire lifestyle is still relatively more successful than 99% of the population even though their potential was not realized.
When defining success we should look for a metric that is not driven by a static variable, but rather a combination of static and dynamic, real and unrealized, like Nietzsche proposed. Success is not just about your current achievements, as those are all in the past. Success is also not all about reaching your potential, especially if doing so drives you to be unhappy or unfulfilled. The sweet spot is in the middle and the key lies in finding meaningful work to do in the present. Work that produces the results we want, but also work that tells us about who we are and what we can become. As Arjuna said in the Bhagavad Gita, “You should have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.”
With all of this in mind, I propose that success be measured by how well you sleep. Being able to lay your head down each night without worries or cares is a laudable goal that we all strive for. Some nights we achieve it, while other nights we don’t. The point is that we are always attempting to get a good night’s rest, and that the measure of success is how our actions during the day get us nearer to that goal. You can think of getting a good night’s sleep as a microcosm for living a good life.
Now, I know what you are thinking...What about people with diagnosable sleep disorders?Are they degenerates because they can never sleep well? The answer is obviously, 'No,' but again this is all relative. Even these folks have better and worse nights depending on the previous days' choices and actions. The underlying question remains the same. How can we live today so that our heart, body, and mind can all rest easily at the end of the day, knowing that we did our work, and that tomorrow we are ready to wake and do it again? Work Hard. Rest Well.