Success Does Not Exist

What do you think of when you think of success?

Words by Joshua Fields Millburn

What do you think of
when you think of success?
A trophy, award, or achievement?
A specific number of followers?
A certain amount of money?

While there’s nothing “wrong” with these things,
a dozen championships won’t increase your tranquility,
a thousand admirers won’t bring you peace,
a million dollars won’t make you happy.

Craving an outcome anchors you to a future that does not exist,
and drags you from the peace of the present moment.

If you always need more—
more cash, more clout, more commendations—
then you’ll never have enough,
and you’ll continue to yearn.
Yearning leads only to misery.
And misery isn’t success—it’s failure.

What about winning?
Isn’t that the definition of success?

To take home a trophy is to take home a relic that points to the past,
another attachment that wrests you from the present moment.

Winning isn’t innately good or bad.
But the compulsion to win—
to compete, to be number one—
is a prison.

Imagine you’re trapped in a spacious jail cell
surrounded by trophies.
Does that sound like success?

If you win the game but lose equanimity,
what have you won?
You’ve lost everything.

But what about raising well-rounded children?
Or establishing better habits?
Or donating to charity?
Surely, these are the endeavors of a successful person!

You’re free to do any of these things,
to create and consume and contribute with abandon.
But as soon as you attach happiness to an outcome,
you place yourself back behind bars,
because you’re living in the future again.

Running after a result isn’t success—it’s chasing.
Chasing the past or the future.
Success is always bound to chasing.
Chasing is attachment.
Attachment is suffering.
Suffering is failure.

Do the math.
If A equals B,
and B equals C,
then success equals failure.

This may be hard for you to grasp.
Because you’ve been sold a meme your entire life.
You’ve been told that success equals happiness.
That you’re just one accomplishment away from happy.

But you weren’t given the truth:
happiness is your default state.
It appears when you stop chasing.

Happiness needn’t be pursued to be reached.
The pursuit of happiness is just another form of chasing.
It is only when you drop the pursuit that you realize happiness.

Influence, wealth, and status are all hapless hunts.
Getting more does not make you successful.
Striving for more makes you excessful.
Excess is accompanied by restlessness, pain, and misery.

So travel the path toward success if you want.
Simply know that path diverges from peace.
Peace is found only in the present,
through awareness and letting go.

That’s not to say that you “should” let go.
Or that you should be happy.
Or that you should not fail.
There is no should.

But if you want peace,
it is not found on the horizon,
or in the rearview mirror.

Hat tip to Jennette for the conversation that led to this essay.

Joshua Fields Millburn

Joshua Fields Millburn is a bestselling author, writing instructor, and international speaker. Best known as one half of The Minimalists, he is the author of four books, including a critically acclaimed memoir, Everything That Remains. He has been featured in Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Vancouver Sun, Village Voice, LA Weekly, and many other outlets. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1981, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

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