What it Means to Be Very Successful

What is success built on? Guest blogger Matt Liu shares his insight:

This year has been a fantastic year for my friends. My friend Katrina got an offer letter from Tesla with less than a year of formal computer science education on her résumé. My friend Rishi was accepted to Harvard Business School. My friend Julie opened her trendy bar in a big city. Friends are graduating from medical school and law school in droves. I’m lucky to know some seriously awesome people.

But I’m also more than a little envious of what they’ve been able to achieve. Their accomplishments are such neat little milestones that I can sum up in a single word.





It takes me more than one word to tell my friends and family what I’ve been up to.

Some days it really eats away at me. My personal journey doesn’t have the same clear progression. What if I work at the same job in the same town my entire life? Would I be a failure?

I’ve always thought of my self-worth in literal terms—how much would a publisher pay for the rights to my biography? I’ve fallen into the same trap that so many people in my generation do: I compare my goals with the accomplishments of other people.

Is there another way to live?

“There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb…”

-Cyrus, “The Climb”

I feel that Cyrus’s metaphor of a climb perfectly captures the path I witness.

Before they hit their milestones, my friends spent every single day working hard, showing up, being kind, and laying out plans. A year ago, they couldn’t have predicted where they would end up.

Similarly, I’m not going to accomplish what I want to do by working backwards from an end result.

“No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten…”

-Bedingfield “Unwritten”

I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable with the idea that I’m in control of my own story. This is a thought that used to terrify me. But when I focus on elevating my family, my friends, and my community, I can live a life that I’m proud of.

If I stop worrying about what others are doing and focus on what’s in front of me, everything might just turn out okay.

Simply put, our big successes are built on smaller successes. And a happy life is built on happy moments. It’s time I started chasing small victories of my own.


Matt profile

Matt Liu pushes plastic buttons on a computer and wears dress shirts in conference rooms for a living. When he’s not spending all of his time working, he is leveling outlandish criticisms at local restaurants and pestering the people in his life to listen to more Carly Rae Jepsen. He humbly requests that you avoid contacting him on social media, since his Twitter is mostly Marriott re-tweets for hotel points, and his Instagram features so much Olive Garden content, that he is followed by no fewer than three of their corporate accounts.

2 thoughts on “What it Means to Be Very Successful

  1. I agree with Matt. But what does success even mean? Fame? Money? Recognition? Maybe its a mixture of many elements both known and deeply psychological. Before we even discuss how success is built, I believe it is worthwhile to discuss the concept of success altogether.

    My discovery of success began with a wonderful conversation I had with a dean of a college. She told me two wonderful stories regarding success: one about her mother and one about her.

    When her mother was coming to age ( think 1910s), she wanted to go to college and become a successful writer. Her family refused to help her; they wanted her to spend the rest of her life with the family business. She ended up running away from home two month later at 17 and spent the next 15 years as a traveling dancer, making little money. Even though she couldn’t follow her lifelong dream and lived a very modest life, she found her own success. Freedom was success. At the time, society certainty didn’t view her as successful but she certainly does.

    The Dean had different plans growing up and as a young professional. Ironically, she wanted to be a dancer like her mother; however, she wasn’t good enough to make it. She tried out for dance troupes over and over again, but she was never successful. Her mother made her go to school and the rest is history. As a dean of a college, society views her as successful, but you would almost never hear that from her. Make no mistake. She is proud of what she does and is great at it, but the feeling of failure hasn’t left her even after 50 years. She couldn’t hide the sense of disappointment.

    However complex, success is something only you can define yourself. For me, success is improving myself constantly and never being stagnant; success is trying to make the world a better place. But what is success built upon? Success is built through out your journey, and whether you succeed or not depends on how you define your own goals.

    Never be afraid to dream big.


    1. So Matt says:
      “I think there are two types of success that your story about the Dean illustrates very well. There’s the public narrative of success, which is framed by social context and tropes. In this case, the Dean is outwardly in a position of leadership and trusted to make decisions for a large amount of people. However, it doesn’t line up with her personal measure of success, which is a lot more mercurial since it’s defined by her own experience.

      At the end of the day, I think it’s important to understand that the two are always going to be different, but hopefully not mutually exclusive. I would like to think that the Dean is being too hard on herself. There are a lot of ways to live an accomplished life as a free spirit even if she can’t follow in her mother’s footsteps and a dancer and I hope that her mother would agree.

      Since my mind keeps turning to song lyrics, something I’ve been thinking about is the familiar hip-hop braggadocio: “I’m the greatest alive // Forget these haters”. It really blends public perception and personal achievement in an interesting way. Maybe if we could all think like that, we would be less hard on ourselves?

      “Success is what you make it,
      Take it how it come.
      A half a mil in twenties
      Like a billion where I’m from”

      -Thornton, “So Appalled””


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