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  • AutorenbildMatthias Mayer

The relative concept of success

Aktualisiert: 19. Aug. 2022

Relative success. What does it mean? success:

First, what does success mean? Success is a general term, which denotes something valuable, something which is worthwhile achieving, representing "good". Everyone might have different images to what that good is, so it is a general concept of something good with an individual filling. But no matter what you believe success looks like, still everyone wants to be successful. So it is a basic category in thinking, common to everyone of us!

And it is an important one, as you will naturally tend to go into the direction of where you believe success to be. It is a life-direction giving concept. That is also the reason as to why I think that in this context we can use "success" and "meaning" as synonumous terms, because whatever you believe success to be, must also represent something meaningful to you. That is why you defined it as success in the first place. You could not say success means to me xyz, but xyz is meaningless to me. You cannot but strive into a direction which seems good to you. Therefore whatever you believe success to be is of very high importance to your whole life.


Something is relative, if it gains its meaning by comparison to something else.

Example: If something is „bigger“, it doesnt tell you wether that thing itself is big or small, but only that it is bigger in relation to xyz. It is just bigger than some other thing. It could describe an ant in comparison to a flee, or it could describe Mount Everest in comparison to K2. Or if you say, „I feel relatively well“, that means, that in contrast to your previous state you could call your state well. Though that "well" could still be miserable.

Relative success:

The term "relative success" therefore indicates, that success, so that which is valuable to you, gains its meaning by comparison to something else.

Success in sports

I will use mainly sports to further illustrate this concept of relative success, even though this concept is by far not exclusive to sports. Sports is rather one form of its manifestation, and a very simple and descriptive one, which makes it perfectly suitable for explaining.

As I have explained in the article Parkour: Sport or Art? in more detail, all sports result in a ranking, by the means of measuring and comparing the participants´performances to each other. Even in the case of no ranking, so for example in the case of solo hobby sports, measurement still plays a crucial role in sports. It turns out, that it is even so important, that everything else in that activity subordinates itself to the measuring. Even the supposed „heart and soul" of sports - the goals - turn out to be truibutary to the measuring, as these goals can only serve as goals if they are measurable – indicating that the measurement is the overriding purpose of the sportive activity. It is the factor which determines the way and form of sports.

But the measuring itself is not interesting, if it in turn wouldn´t fulfill a purpose. It is that which is hoped to be proven through the measuring, which is of such high importance to us – namely a feeling of progress, of productivity, of moving forward towards, an increase, a being on the right path towards something supposedly good, etc.

This is a crucial feeling for probably every single living individual. It is the feeling of having meaning, direction and purspose.

In the case of competing against other competitiors, this purpose, this feeling of „being on the right track“ is fulfilled if your performance is better or improving relatively to the performance of others. That indicates to you, that you are moving into the right direction. But wether alone or against others, your „moving into the right direction“ is determined by an increase relative the performances of others, or your past performances.

So in the sports system, success and meaning are clearly defined a relative way.

An example to further illustrate this:

You can win the first place in the Olympic games with a specific score lets say. In the next Olypmic games your score might be exactly the same, but you may only become fith. Whereas in the first Olympic games you felt successful and like a winner, in the games after that, you don´t feel quite as successful. Furthermore others will not see you as successful, nor will society reward you for your performance (reward could be things like attention, reverence, money, public respect, …). And that is strange, as your performance was exactly the same.

So here you can see, wether you are seen, or defined as successful is independent of your performance. Your performance only gets its value through its relation to the performance of others.

In this relative way of defining success, success automatically becomes a rare thing. It is that exact rarity which makes success succes.

That means: In the relative concept of success, success gets its meaning by the non-success of others (or your past self), and you can only be successful on the basis, that someone else is not (or yourself of yesterday was worse than yourself today).

This way of defining success requires a continual being better than others or yourself, in order that the success/meaning can be maintained in this system. You are doomed to eternal increase and/or being better than others. You require the non-success of others, to believe yourself to be successful. This is what success means by definition… by relative definition.

And what does it mean?

Well, less and less, the longer you look at it. Imagine you would define colours in a relative way:

blue = not green

green = not blue

This way, you have no clue what blue nor green means. You end up with two empty words. The only thing you know is that they are not alike.

Another example:

health = not disease

disease = not health

It becomes even more evident here, that if we define these terms, we end up with empty word shells, leaving us clueless about the significance of these terms.

Some words, though, only make sense in a relative way. For example: acceleration, growth, increase. These are all words which describe the alteration of a state in comparison to a previous state.

Is the concept of relative success problematic?

As we have seen in the beginning, the concept of success is not a footnote in our thinking, but it is one major category, symbolizing something good and valuable in general. That means, that the way that you understand success, the way you fill that concept, is influencing your moveme... no.... your whole entire complete life!

And if that direction-giving, choice-influencing, meaning-spending concept is defined in a relative way, we can have a serious serious problem.

Because if that which you are directing your life towards means nothing in and of itself in particular, but just consists of „whatever the others do, but more of it“, or, „whatever I did yesterday, but more of it“, then that is a no real direction at all. And additionally you give up your individuality. Just a side note.

Is it still a surprise to you why sport looks the way it does? A bunch of people, doing the same exact thing, putting all their efforts in being just a tiny fraction better than the others. That is what competition is: A fight around who can call himself successful. Who can believe himself to be succesful. The trophies, medals, titles serve as kind of official certificates, the proofs that you truly are a successful one and that you are doing something meaningful in life. Sports only works, because everyone part of it is truly and firmly believing in the relative concept of success.

Of course it is not only sports people believing in that concept, but probably everyone to some degree, as this way of defining success is a very general and broad way of understanding success in our times. The way successful sports people are revered and treated in the public, as if they were particularly successful members of society, is just an indication of how collective this concept is. Is there also an absolute concept of success?

to be continued...

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