“Instead of seeing success as some kind of accomplishment,
victory, or conquest, I think it’s wiser and more effective to define success
as sustainability.” – Steve Pavlina
If success is sustainability, what is it, exactly, that we’re trying to sustain?
Sustainability is concerned with that which is timeless to begin with. This has to be the case, because anything that is temporary cannot be sustained. To be specific, anything rooted in physicality is temporary, and will eventually vanish. On the other hand, anything which is non-physical, and is instead rooted in consciousness and in principles, is timeless.
There is only one pursuit which can be undertaken for all eternity, across all of the different realms of reality. That pursuit is conscious growth. Consciousness is the only thing that can possibly continue after the death of your physical body. As such, conscious growth is the only possible timeless pursuit.
Therefore, to succeed is to sustain the growth of consciousness indefinitely. This means that the goal of growth is not to reach some point of enlightenment and be totally done. Even if you are to continue your existence in other phases of reality, you can still continue to grow as a conscious being (or, you might say, consciousness being).
What does this entail? To “sustain the growth of consciousness indefinitely” means that you center your life around principles, rather than physical things. You do your best to become ever more-aligned with those principles, because doing so will help you to expand, which is the basic desire of consciousness: to become more of itself, “itself” being everything.
There is a concrete way to look at this, too. The growth of consciousness is simply the expansion of your experience of life. An inevitable part of living consciously is opening yourself up to more and more possibilities. This means that you can experience a greater variety of possibilities, too. As you grow, the range of possible experiences available to you grows, too.
Success in Various Aspects of Life
The definition of success as sustainability means that success in any aspect of life is relative to your subjective experience of that aspect of life. Because conscious growth is both the expansion of your experience of life as well as your alignment with certain principles, your subjective experience and your alignment with principles are essentially one and the same.
In your human relationships, for instance, the concern of success is not with the sustainability of any particular relationship. Rather, success in human relationships is the sustainability of the flow of love through your life. This means that success in a relationship has nothing to do with how long it lasts. A successful relationship is one that is approached in a way that allows for both people to experience love. This can entail making any sort of changes to a relationship, such as “downgrading” from lovers to platonic friends, or even from friends to occasional acquaintances. If such changes allow both people to enjoy a more harmonious relationship with one another, then the changes are not really “downgrades” at all—they’re upgrades. The goal is not to cage any one person for as long as possible. The real goal is to manage your relationships with other humans such that love can flow naturally through them.
By this definition of success, even a relationship whereby you talk to a person once and then never meet again can be considered successful. If love flows through that interaction, and that interaction supports the sustained flow of love through your life, then that is a successful relationship. It is successful because it connects you to the one true relationship you have, which is to life itself.
Likewise, a successful career is one in which you sustain your ability to do purpose-aligned tasks. It doesn’t matter if your career takes the form of computer programming one year and writing plays the next: as long as you can continue to do consciously-chosen tasks which are congruent with your purpose for being on this Earth, without inhibition, then you have a successful career.
It’s more accurate to say that you are having a successful career, than that you have or had a successful career. Since success is defined by sustainability, rather than accomplishment, whether you are successful is relative to how things are going in the present moment. If you are currently on the principle-centered, growth-oriented, sustainable path, then you are successful. If you have wavered from that path, then you are not successful.
For a knowledge-worker specifically, success is sustaining your ability to both gain new wisdom and to apply it. Essential to both integrating and being able to use wisdom is sharing it with others. Indeed, sharing wisdom is a form of applying it.
Similarly, for an artist success is sustaining your ability to express universal, timeless principles through your art. Note that beauty and authenticity are among these.
Quite similar to career is lifestyle. To have a successful lifestyle is simply to sustain a way of living that supports and encourages your path of growth. Your lifestyle includes but is not limited to your career. Your living arrangements, general activities, relationships, and health count as part of your lifestyle, too.
Applying the sustainability-definition to health is straightforward. Success in health is simply sustaining your physical and psychological abilities to do as you desire. If you put these abilities at risk and/or you lose these abilities, you are not healthy. If you maintain and support these abilities, you are healthy. Note that what is essential to these abilities is being alive in the first place. This means that if you do anything that degrades your essential ability to be alive, then you are not healthy.
As a runner, I regard success as sustaining my ability to have fun. Essential to having fun on a run is running in a manner (i.e. at a pace) that I can sustain the whole time (with some variety, of course). It wouldn’t be any fun to sprint as hard as I can for the first 100 meters and then have to drop back or even drop out completely. Likewise, running very slow and very little isn’t fun, either.
What I find fun as a runner is racing, going on adventures, and- even better- a combination of both racing and adventuring (like, say, running a 50 mile race through the woods). There’s no fun quite like running on a trail in a forest I’ve never been to—especially if I’m running to some lean-to I can only hope exists based on an old map I read, and I tied up my sleeping bag to a drawstring bag last minute and put that whole contraption on my back, and I have 7 miles to go, and one hour of daylight left, and I forgot to bring water. Similarly, there’s no fun quite like running as hard as I can around a track for 10 minutes, collapsing to the ground as soon as I finish because I have no more willpower to stand up straight, and then promptly being scooped up in the arms of a friend.
The point is, my definition of success in running is actually highly practical. It encourages me to run a lot and to run fast, and it keeps me from burning out psychologically. It is not possible to burn out when your goal is to simply have fun indefinitely. It is likewise not possible to succumb to laziness, because who is going to be lazy when they are having so much fun?
I will admit that I am not as fast these days as I was in previous years, but I feel confident that seriously making fun my top priority as a runner will help to change that. Of course, I’m not necessarily trying to prove this statement, because that wouldn’t be fun. :)
Growth and Functionality
Overall, the point is not to sustain any one business, human relationship, hobby, lifestyle, economic system, or any physically-based thing indefinitely. Rather, sustainability is concerned fundamentally with principles, the most central of which are growth and functionality. Functionality is simply what works, relative to what you are attempting to accomplish.
So, what we want to sustain is (a) our growth as conscious beings and (b) what works. Ideally, these two are one and the same. What works is what leads you to grow. Likewise, growth is what works.
Hence, for me, sustaining my ability to do purpose-aligned tasks (i.e. my career) means growing continually. I have literally defined my career as conscious growth itself. As long as I sustain my own growth, then I am having a successful career. Likewise, I know that as long as I continue growing my career will become successful in more conventional terms too, which refers to making money and generally connecting more strongly with more people (this includes building web-traffic). That’s because these things will help me to sustain my growth, and thus my career itself. Overall, my career will work if I grow, and I must grow to make it work.
Principles: Intelligence and Life
Steve Pavlina defines the fundamental principles of conscious growth as Truth, Love, and Power. The combination of these three principles is Intelligence. Intelligence is essentially the same thing as consciousness.
Neale Donald Walsch defines the fundamental principles of life as Functionality, Adaptability, and Sustainability.
These two sets of principles are essentially the same. Truth is what works, plain and simple (that is, functionality). Love is being engaged with life; likewise, adaptations (i.e. changes) require engaging with life to be undergone successfully. If you are out of touch with life, on the other hand, then you will not know when it is time to adapt, and you will consequently become even more out of touch with life. Indeed, your life will become less functional.
Power is your ability to create an intended result. The essential question of power is, Can you sustain yourself along a certain path long enough to attain a particular result? As such, power requires sustainability. Power is about stamina. To stay centered in your true self and to hold your own is to be powerful. If you can sustain yourself, you are powerful (and successful!).
Finally, intelligence and life are one and the same. Steve says that the components of intelligence are beauty, flow, growth, and authenticity. To be authentic is essentially to be natural, and what is natural is alive. Likewise, nature is undoubtedly beautiful, and it is natural for nature to grow—maybe not indefinitely, but all forms of life nevertheless grow while they are alive. As for flow, we can say that there is a flow to life—natural processes that are ever-unfolding. Likewise, when we are in a state of flow, we act naturally—we don’t have to try very hard or command ourselves to act in a certain way.
Based on the definition of success as sustainability, a successful spirituality enables you to adapt in order to sustain functionality. This includes changing your spirituality itself, if and as needed. A successful spirituality is necessarily flexible, and not tied to a fixed perspective or set of beliefs. There are times where you must choose different viewpoints in order to experience functionality. As such, a successful spirituality allows for its own undoing.
The same is true of your habits. Success in your habits means continually changing your habits relative to what works in the long-term and what doesn’t. Adapt to sustain what is functional.
Stated another way, a successful spirituality enables harmonious collaboration between truth, love, and power. Any idea which does not serve to produce an intended result is unintelligent, and therefore does not serve the sustenance of life. Note that an “intended result” can simply be growth itself. Likewise, such a result is likely in line with all the principles of truth, love, power, functionality, adaptability, and sustainability.
Being is Sufficiency
A simple way to apply the “success is sustainability” approach to your life is to ask the question, Who said you had to win? Really—where did you get that idea from? Blame those fools for giving you such a silly idea, and get back in touch with your true self. You know what is actually important to you: you know that you have nothing but present-moment experience, and all you can take with you when you die is your own consciousness.
This is not to say that conventional measures of success (like money) are necessarily in violation of sustainable-success, growth, or enjoyment of life. Just the contrary, in fact. Just as running fast serves my goal of having fun, money and fame can be helpful to your growth as a human being.
Of course, sustainability is still key. Just as I don’t run as fast or as far as possible every day of my life, you may not find it necessary to extract every dollar possible from people. Just like a relaxed-yet-engaged run can be fun, a sufficient amount of money can be just that—sufficient. Maybe it is not every dollar in the world, but who said it had to be?
You don’t have to capitalize on every single second that you’re alive. You don’t have to run every moment possible in order to become the best runner you can be, let alone to have fun as a runner. You don’t have to earn every dollar possible to have a sustainable, growth-oriented lifestyle, either.
I know it can be hard to wrap your head around, but there is a point where enough is enough. It’s not about depriving yourself or holding yourself back, but rather about putting your growth before any concrete, physical aspect of your life. When you realize this, neediness will dissipate, and full engagement with life will take its place. When you have that, it is hard to feel like you have anything but enough. That’s because engagement with life is not about accumulating possessions or achievements, but what you’re being right now. A joyful life is about what you presently are having, rather than what you have had. And when you equate present-moment having with experiencing, then you will have exponentially more than anything you previously had.
So, just do this: let the sustainability of your journey of becoming the most awesome person that you can be, be your success. You don’t have to max-out that awesomeness, either—just let it be sustainable. :)
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