In a hyper competitive world, “success” is defined in very narrow terms. The online Cambridge university defines it as , “ the achieving of results wanted or hoped for” and “ something that achieves positive results” ( https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/success). The very nature of this definition suggests that there is a large element of subjectivity involved; “success” is also relative and , in the final analysis, is a construct, which varies from context to context. Consider an example. In our society, a premium is attached to “settling down” which in our cultural and social context means a well paid job, or a business which fetches financial returns , a wife, kids and family and, of course, a house. I have no quarrel with this conventional held belief. But, in another context, it might not constitute success. At best, a staid family, good income and so on would connote stability.
But, stability might not mean success. It can also mean mediocrity. The point here is that “success” and its contrast “failure” is relative. If I were to cite a contemporary example, albeit out of a different context, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and now a philanthropist, would not be Bill Gates if he had not “failed”. It may be recalled Gates is a Harvard university drop out. By a conventional metric, the man would have been condemned to failure but he is held to be an eminently “successful” man. Closer home, the poet of poets, Mirza Ghalib, would also be deemed to be a “failure”. The great luminary was invariably in debt and poverty stalked him almost perpetually. But, look at the man’s genius and immense contributions; he was and remains a colossus. Similarly, the great poets of Kashmir, defined by a Sufi outlook like Soche Kraal sahib, Mehjoor, Habba Khatoon and so on might not qualify to be “successful” by conventional standards but their stupendous contributions to our culture, society and political history are beyond doubt.
“Success” then is relative and subjective, to repeat.
All this is not to suggest that one should not aim high. Everyone has a legitimate right to aim and aspire high. (At the risk of being accused of a semantic quibble, “high” again is relative and subjective). But, one should not be bound by social and cultural conventions of success. This, unfortunately, has become rather normative in Kashmir. You are not successful, if you are not a doctor, engineer, a highly financially remunerative businessman and so on. This sort of thinking not only stultifies an individual but also leads to all sorts of social ills and even corruption of the social and moral ethic. So, what then should the young do? What would constitute a legitimate aspiration and, last but not the least, what would success mean?
The answer is that the young must dream. Dreaming has no boundaries; it is neither bounded nor is it defined by constraints. It is only those who dream that can break out of the conventional mode(s). Dreaming can be as humble but meaningful as making a difference to a person’s life; it can be as grand as dreaming to make a path breaking invention that alters and shatters conventional paradigms. The satisfaction that is derived from realizing one’s dream is unparalleled. ( I will not put a dollar figure to describe it). History and even the contemporary world is replete with instances that suggest that it is only dreamers that not only leave a mark on the world but also make meaningful and satisfying contributions to the world.
Another prong to a legitimate aspiration would be to inculcate contentment to yourself. I will, to clarify this assertion, qualify it: by contentment I do not mean you should be accepting of your condition and not strive to improve it. No. Not at all. Continuous improvement and struggle are what give and impart meaning to life. By contentment, I mean that while continuing to improve your lot and condition, your psycho emotional world should not be disturbed by gratuitous yearnings and desires. The combination of dreaming and contentment which can be termed as dreamy contentment must be accompanied by a moral and ethical vision that corresponds to the one laid out by the Creator.
Dreaming, contentment and an ethical life then might be held to be the “formulas” for a “good life”.
What would it mean in practice?
It would mean defying social conventions of “success”, being in tune and touch with your inner selves and adhering to what the voice within tells you and a fine moral and ethical compass that allows you to take a look back years later at your life with satisfaction at having made no moral compromises. It would also mean not groveling and abasing yourself before power and the powerful for small or big gains, not gaining advantage over others at their expense and also creating opportunity for yourself in accord with your dreams. It should also mean not being fake. That is, not adopting fake personas to ingratiate with and suck upto people. It should mean making meaningful, genuine relationships where there are neither quid pro quo’s involved nor petty give and takes.
Admittedly, this path is difficult. But, it is meaningful. And, there is an element of romanticism involved here. But, at the end of the day, the contentment, satisfaction and happiness that you will derive for being recognized , first by yourself and then by others, for your achievements, will be profound. You will neither live a miserable life where success is either inherited or owed to others , but a meaningfully proud one , defined by a self worth where you will be you.
So, dream and defy!