In the principles of sociology class I teach online we do a unit where we discuss the impact of various groups on our perceptions and behavior. One of my favorites to teach about is "Reference Groups" which are those whose opinions and standards we use to evaluate ourselves.
How successful I feel in any given endeavor will depend on who I look to as a reference group. If I consider other fat middle aged ladies as my reference group for my skill at basketball or bowling or any kind of physical sport I can honestly say I can do reasonably well. (OK, maybe not at bowling - I am one who definitely benefits from gutter guards.) But if I looked to members of the NBA or Olympic athletes to measure my expertise I would look very bad indeed.
Who I define as my reference group is going to determine what standards I adopt for what "good enough" or "great" means in just about every thing I do or am. Every term I have students who say "I just go by my own standards, I don't compare myself to anyone else." I don't buy it. Our own standards are things we have internalized by observing others.
During our current economic free fall I have heard different people comparing notes about what percentage of their assets they have lost in the stock market, or at what point they jumped ship, took the hit and got out of the market. Is it BETTER to ride the wave and hope it comes back or to bail when you can to preserve what you have left? That all depends on who your reference groups are. What seems terribly foolhardy to some is considered gutsy by others.
What makes me feel "successful"? How do I define it? How do I measure it?
There have been a lot of good quotes about success... One of my favorites lately is from Winstin Churchill who said:
"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm"