Some teachers grade their students on a curve. A straight A student might have their grade pulled down, and a D student may have their grade increased. When students are graded on a curve, the grades follow a normal distribution curve, so only the top 10% of students can get an A, the next 10% can get a B, the middle 60% get a C, students between 11% and 20% get a D, and the bottom 10% get an F.
But that’s not how success works. You aren’t measured against your peers. You can get whatever grade you choose based on your own definition of success.
The top 1%, the wealthiest people on Earth, may have more money, more homes, and more toys. But that is no indication that they are happy, that they are living up to their full potential, or that that single measurement means that they are successful. Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and the guy down the street with his own small plumbing business may have more meaning in their lives, may be happier, and may be more successful using any other measure of success.
Mother Teresa may have been in the bottom 1% when measured on wealth, and she surely spent her time with people that occupied that financial strata. She chose spiritual wealth over financial wealth.
The only way to measure your own success is to measure it against your own definition. But don’t go easy on yourself when you define success.
Start with this question: “What do I have to do to reach my full potential?”
If you don’t perceive a serious gap here, you aren’t being honest, or you are delusional. If you are willing to be really introspective in answering that question, you just created a lifetime of work for yourself, and you are still unlikely to be able to honestly admit you weren’t capable of more.
Answer this question: “What do I want to do?”
It doesn’t matter what other people want to do with their lives. It doesn’t matter what other people want you to do with your life. Your definition of success can only be based on what you want to do with your life. And if it doesn’t change every ten years or so, you need to get yourself unstuck.
And here is another big one: “What do I want to contribute?”
I’ve asked a lot of successful people to define their success for me. I have yet found one who, upon reflection, hasn’t defined it through the contribution that they made to others, some cause greater than themselves. When you are young, it’s easy to measure your success by your own individual achievement. But if you grow up (which is different than aging), you can no longer accept your individual achievement as an acceptable definition; it has to be something bigger than you.
Pulling other people down by believing that their definition of success is wrong doesn’t make you any more successful. Measuring yourself against someone else’s definition, especially society’s definition, doesn’t make that definition right for you either.
There is no success curve. You have to define the grade yourself, and you have to measure yourself against it.