Professional success and personal success: two independent dimensions

All of us chase after success. For majority of us, success means achieving more in life. A better car, a bigger house, a promotion at job or a fancy watch. This particular definition of success pertains to what I call as professional success. Most of the stars, sports people, top shot CEOs and other celebrities that you know are at pinnacle of their professional success. They probably worked very hard to achieve what they have today and are also probably very proud of it. So far, so good.

But, there is another aspect of success. I call it personal success. If you compare two people: one movie star and another middle class office goer, do you really think movie star is more happy than the office goer? Deep inside they both have same happiness scale. In fact, for all the possessions and fame that a movie star has got, he may be actually not as happy as the regular office goer who gets to see his family every day and spend quality time with them. Regular Joe is happy as hell, why should he be ashamed of not being a movie star?

So, personal success is a different ball game altogether. It is completely independent of professional success you have got. In fact, I value personal success much more as compared to professional success. Reason for that is because personal success is much easily achievable. You all have a choice to spend quality time with your friends and family and live a rich and happy life. But, sadly, many of choose to chase professional success like mad people (rats). We work endlessly to achieve the elusive “professional success”, odds of achieving which is very less (just compare number of celebrities out there v/s total population on Earth).

So, given you can be happy with your personal life right now, why would you work non-stop and sacrifice personal life for some professional success. Why should it even matter that you could not become Sachin Tendulkar, Bill Gates, Lady Gaga or Tom Cruise? Just because they are at pinnacle of their professional careers, do you think they more happy than you? I doubt and I am pretty convinced.

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  1. Interesting! I would just add one thought – the post assumes that professional success means being as big as a celebrity. If you changed that metric to professional success meaning “People who are satisfied with how they are performing professionally”, I think the odds of professional success would increase dramatically. It would still no doubt be a low chance, but I expect it to be much higher than celebrity status.

    So, what I ma trying to say is that the individual definition of professional success also plays a role here ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. The moment you define success to have multiple independent dimensions, you will have the challenge of avoiding local maximas. You already *feel* this but the conclusion you have reached is unwarranted. Your intuition is bang on but the analysis lacks rigour.

    Instead of considering them independent dimensions, think of professional success as a component of personal success. Your goal is to optimize for personal success and professional success is a means to that end. There are other components like health, friendships which you need to take care of.

    And then, the rest of your post falls perfectly in place. There is no conflict between the two. An analogy would be to have the goal of becoming school topper which involves acing science, maths and language – all three subjects. The individual subjects are important but it’s the combination that ultimately matters.

    Sorry, this became rather abstract and long. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. @Nilesh: I am debating the exact point you make. Professional success can never be a part of personal success. An individual can be tremendously successful on professional front, yet he can be feeling terribly empty on personal front. Vice versa is also true.

  3. Anshuman: great point. What I am alluding to is that one should not sacrifice personal success for professional success, no matter what the definition of professional success is. As long as there is a good balance between two (preferably titling towards personal success), I am perfectly happy ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Yes, happiness, the measure of personal success. Suffering, a measure for measure.

    “Sometimes we are asked
    to get good at something we have
    no talent for,
    or we excel at something we will never
    have the opportunity to prove.

    Often we ask ourselves
    to make absolute sense
    out of what just happens,
    and in this way, what we are practicing

    is suffering,
    which everybody practices,
    but strangely few of us
    grow graceful in.”
    -Tony Hoagland

  5. Thanks Paras. Actually, research shows that professional success and personal happiness are correlated. But the correlation is not linear. Its logarithmic. Above a certain level of success, personal happiness grows more slowly. But there is no saturation point where happiness starts declining. (Source:

    Another interesting study is how people are more happy when people around them are similarly successful. The wider the economic gap in a country, the less happy its population. This is why both Norway & Philippines both consistently rank higher than USA in happiness index.

    On a personal level, Maslow comes closest to giving us a happiness map. His “hierarchy of needs” is very insightful. ('s_hierarchy_of_needs)

    While creating a plan for myself, what I like to do is list everything I want to achieve across 6 topics. This gives me a balanced plan to optimize my happiness.

    1. Physical health
    2. Mental health
    3. Wisdom & learning
    4. Wealth & professional success
    5. Personal happiness
    6. Social happiness

    List everything under these 6 topics. Then select to focus on just 1 thing under each topic.

    Oh and yes – surround yourself with happy friends and you will grow happier.

  6. Very honest. Many of us try to hide behind professional success and try to convince the world that we are truly happy. Happiness lies in the journey, and not the destination, and the key is to be content doing whatever you are doing, whether in a professional sphere or in your own personal realm.

  7. Hi Paras, thanks for linking me to this blog post from the other one where I left a comment. This is another great point. I think that something that’s missing in the discussion here, though, is that many people who we consider successful have actually found a way to align their personal goals with their professional goals. In that way, they are able to achieve success in both aspects of their lives. I don’t mean to say that the goals are perfectly aligned, but in general, the two types of success don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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