What is success?

March 5, 2021

My son was visiting me. Sitting next to the pool on my ranch, surrounded by the beautiful valley and the high mountains beyond, said: "Daddy, you made it."

 I've been thinking about what he said. Did I make it? By many aspects, yes, I did. I have a great family, a happy marriage, great kids who are working and making their living, but also contributing to society. I am proud of them. I am financially secure and contributing to society myself  through my thoughts and writings. What more could I ask for? I am successful, right?

 We can analyze success with the PAEI code. Have we achieved physical (P), intellectual (A), emotional (E), and social/spiritual (I) success?

 On the intellectual side, I think I have exceeded what would be deemed success, due to my writing contributions as well as my career achievements. On the emotional side, I have put in the work and I believe I am beyond the threshold level. I also believe I have surpassed the threshold on the social/spiritual side. I have great friends and have developed a spiritual orientation, through meditation that exceeds the threshold level.

 So if the intellectual side exceeds expectations, and the social, spiritual, and emotional sides are beyond the benchmark, where does that leave the physical side? Alas, this is the one that I totally neglected! I have gone on a healthy diet from time to time. I have exercised sporadically but I'm overweight and chronically tired due to lack of sleep. Is that success?

 Success is a balance of all the subsystems that comprise us. None of them should be neglected at the expense of the other; and yet I did this with my intellectual side, my career side. I sacrificed my health. Am I happy with this? Absolutely not. Come to think of it, the price was too high and not at all worth it.

 We don't know the value of the most important things in our lives until we are deficient in them—until we miss them; We don't know the value of life until we are dying, or the value of health until we are sick. We don’t realize the value of love until we are lonely.

 I have neglected the most important factor, I believe, which is the platform, the foundation for the other subsystems: my physical health.

 If one is not successful in physical health, eventually the intellectual side will suffer—as will the emotional side, and in turn, the social side. PAEI is a pyramid. At the bottom are the physical needs: food, shelter, and health. Next is the intellectual side, which also encompasses materialism (i.e., the feeling that we are secure and financially safe). Resting on these is the emotional side, which includes the most exciting parts of life. And still higher, at the top, is the negating of oneself, the taking of oneself out of the equation, seeing oneself as part of the totality of humanity and thus as a part of something bigger than oneself. The need is not only for self-actualization, but for a sense of being part of something bigger than oneself. This is the “I.”

 If the foundation is weak, everything above it in this pyramid will be shaky. Start with physical health. Eat right, sleep right, exercise right. Only then will you find success with everything else.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes