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Don’t aim for success. If you persist, it will find you.


Nina Matthews

If you insist on setting 5, 10, or 30 year goals in life, you’re gonna have a bad time.

The reason: Long-terms goals are mostly arbitrary and futile. Since life is full of surprise, setting specific expectations for it largely results in a feeling of failure.

In other words, “Don’t aim at success,” writes Viktor Frankl in his seminal Man’s Search For Meaning. “The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.”

This has certainly been the case in my life. I didn’t aspire to be [insert glamorous title here]. I didn’t impose a random deadline to attain x car, y house, or z thingy. The only thing I aspired to be was interesting, educated, cultured, and experienced. I suspected those traits would put me in a favorable position to find love, friendship, and income. I guessed right.

To be interesting, I make a daily effort to talk differently than others by avoiding insincere language, trite beliefs, and forgettable cliches. Since I’m not naturally funny, I try to be playful, which is better than being dull. I also try to smile because bright faces are more interesting that sad ones.

To educate myself, I read books and ask questions about my surroundings. At one time, I was formally enrolled in school.

For culture, I ingest music, observe fine arts, watch movies, and travel—not just to foreign lands; but to nearby places that are populated with new people. For experiences, I pursue active, thought-provoking, or emotionally-rich pastimes over passive ones.

That makes me sound more sophisticated than I really am. In truth, I enjoy football, games, and idleness as much as the next red-blooded American. But those are the things I target; the things I prioritize. In doing so, I’ve found what I believe to be happiness, self-worth, and a feeling of success.

That won’t always be the case. My tempest will come. But I also suspect the above ambitions will help me endure, if not enjoy, sobering trials and tribulations.

If it worked for Frankl in a Nazi concentration camp, it can work for you and I.

Here he is again: “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it,” he says. “Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

See also: How to succeed: Don’t quit until everyone in the room tells you “no”

The story first published to in winter 2014