What is success?

A couple of weeks ago Jose Mourinho, manager of Chelsea and massive, massive arsehole, described Arsène Wenger, manager of Arsenal and person I’d like to be my genial uncle, as a serial failure. This was in response to Monsieur Wenger suggesting that people who blatantly downplay their chances of winning something they can obviously win do so because of a fear of failure. Jose (a man who likes to blatantly downplay his chances of winning something he can obviously win) took huge offence at this (even though it’s true) and went on the attack.

And he had a point, actually: Arsène, by one obvious measure (major football trophies) is a ‘serial failure’. He tries to win four of them every year and, since 2005, has not managed it.

But, looking at the bigger picture, one could point to the fact that Arsène laid the groundwork for the modern approach to football in this country: proper diet and fitness, state-of-the-art training facilities etc. He also built a club, being instrumental in Arsenal moving to a new, much bigger stadium, giving them a better chance to compete financially for the future through their self-generated income. He has also discovered, bought and sold many players at a huge profit to allow this development to occur. So by some definitions, those that Mourinho could never come anywhere near because he’s an immensely unpleasant and insecure mercenary prick who only wins trophies by spending hundreds of millions of pounds (in fact, he ought to thank Arsène for inadvertently changing English football into the kind of thing billionaires want to invest in), Arsène has been very successful indeed.

So there are many, many definitions of success, a fact worth bearing in mind when you’re wondering if you’ve managed to achieve any.

For example, you might have gone a fair way into your career without snaring that elusive Cannes Grand Prix or stint at Wieden and Kennedy, but is that failure? It is if that’s what you were attempting to do, but what if the processes that led to those targets left you a bitter, distant spouse, or deeply unhappy as you realised the extent to which you had overvalued such aims? Can we define that as ‘success’? As the man in this TED talk says, you can lose when you outscore somebody and win when you’ve been outscored. For him success comes through peace of mind as a result of knowing you did your best and remembering that life is about the journey, not the destination:

I’d suggest that only if climate change has been reversed and world peace has been secured by my own fine deeds would I consider my time here a success. Then again, I set quite high standards for myself.

What about you?