Defining Success and Failure: Moving Beyond Ego to a Spiritual Perspective

Whether you know it or not, you’re living two lives simultaneously. In one of these lives, you believe that you’re fallible and subject to failure, illness, and rejection. In your other life, though, you recognize through the deep wisdom of your Soul that you’re an infinite, powerful, unlimited being. (Or, you might not recognize or know this yet… but hopefully you will by the end of this post.)

In that first life, you exist as a human personality. Spiritual teacher & author Gary Zukav describes the personality as the aspect of you that gets confused or lost, experiences negative emotions, lashes out at others, and gets caught up in ego battles. It’s through your personality that you experience all the — let’s say — unpleasant aspects of being incarnated in a physical body.

Your second life, though, transcends your experience as a human. Your second life is the life of your Soul. And your Soul never changes, it can never be hurt, it doesn’t experience negative emotions, and it remains forever at peace and aligned within you.

Well, to be clear, you’re not actually leading these two lives separately. They’re happening simultaneously. This explains why you can feel totally aligned and spiritually aware one moment, but the next moment someone says something that irritates you and you lash out in petty anger.

Let’s apply this metaphor of your two lives to your definitions of success and failure. First, let’s just clarify again:

Personality = human = ego = limited part of you
Soul = spirit = eternal & unlimited part of you

Ego, Success, and Failure

Your ego is tied up with your personality. It’s through ego that we define “success” and “failure” in our Western society and culture. If you define your success based on ego, you might focus on your physical appearance, your income, the level of prestige of your job, your reputation, your popularity, or how many likes you get on Facebook or Instagram.

Your ego cares about things like social status, financial standing, popularity, and being perceived as “beautiful” based on social and cultural standards — which are, of course, biased and problematic, to say the least.

Your ego wants you to be perceived as amazing in all ways, at all times. Your ego wants you to be admired and loved. It will go to great lengths to make sure you don’t take any big risks or do things outside of social norms, because your ego wants you to fit in and be safe.

When you experience anything other than what your ego perceives as a positive outcome, your ego flips out and makes you feel emotions like shame, guilt, embarrassment, and depression. By a “positive outcome,” I mean the ideal version of whatever you set out to do: for example, getting a guy (or girl) to ask you out, getting promoted at work, losing 20 pounds, or getting 50 likes on your Facebook post. If you “fail” to achieve your goals, your ego throws a big emotional tantrum and makes you feel like an utter loser.

Success Criteria: Soul-Based Versus Ego-Based

If you redefine your success criteria to be soul-based rather than ego-based, you’ll learn the lessons you’re meant to learn from your experiences and you’ll be happier regardless of any external circumstances and outcomes.

Let’s walk through a few examples of how to do this.

1. Let’s say you take a risk — and it doesn’t pan out.

(First of all: your ego hates this, because it operates out of fear!). You reach out to an influential person in your field, asking for advice or maybe even to collaborate in some way. You craft an awesome, brief, compelling email and you hit “send.” You wait for a day. Two days. A week. Week and a half. Two weeks. No response. This person never gets back to you.

From Your Ego Perspective: you’ve failed. You made an idiot out of yourself. How dare you think this amazing person would ever read your email?? You should be embarrassed! Never ever try anything like this again, for the love of God. You should crawl into a hole and die.

From Your Soul Perspective: you are the amazing person for taking a risk in the first place. Reaching out to people like this has never been your strong suit, yet you felt the fear and did it anyway. How admirable! You’re moving beyond your comfort zone and that’s what real growth is about. The outcome doesn’t matter. Keep going!

2. You use your creativity and talents to put together a new workshop — but no one signs up.

You put together the workshop content, materials, beautiful flyers, and you promote the heck out of it. You post it on your social media, you send it out to your email list, you put up flyers locally. Awesome! You know this is going to be an amazing event. But… the day of the workshop comes and no one has signed up. Or, one person has signed up. Not the results you were hoping for.

From Your Ego Perspective: again, you should be so ashamed! Of course no one signed up for your workshop. You’re not smart enough. Your content isn’t good enough. You also didn’t promote this properly. Can you ever do anything right??!?

From Your Soul Perspective: wow! You used your creativity and inspiration to produce something totally new and fresh. Your content is soulful and would help so many people. The souls who are meant to work with you just weren’t ready for this yet. Keep refining the workshop and try offering it again in a few months. You’re on the right track!

3. You go on a new diet and lose 15 pounds — but then fall off the wagon and gain back 20 pounds.

You’ve tried millions of diets before, and you thought this one would really stick. You were successful for a few months, and then… life got really hectic. Work was so stressful and you typically turn to food to deal with stress… so, yeah, back to old habits.

From Your Ego Perspective: ugggh, you’re disgusting! I can’t believe you did this again. When are you finally going to lose the weight and keep it off?? You better not leave the house looking like this, and don’t even think about going to the beach this summer. People will laugh at you!

From Your Soul Perspective: this is ok. You are ok. Chocolate and cookies are *really* freaking delicious. It’s hard for anyone to stop eating these things, especially during times of stress. You’re a beautiful being, inside and out, regardless of any number on a scale. Focus on being active and doing things you enjoy. No one is even looking at you anyway; people are concerned with their own bodies!

Can you hear the difference between these two voices? Your ego voice is also the voice of your inner critic, who tries to “protect” you (but fails) through harsh words. Your soul voice is the voice of Source, of the Universe, of the eternal and spunky spirit within you.

To sum it all up:

Your ego defines success as fitting in with the crowd, receiving external praise and accolades, and achieving cultural markers of success such as a high-paying or prestigious job, an expensive house or car, or perfectly behaved children.

Your soul defines success as expansion. Simple as that. In any situation, you can ask yourself: am I shrinking myself, or am I expanding myself?  

In the first example above, the ideal outcome of that influential person responding to your email and inviting you on his/her podcast just didn’t manifest. But you still expanded your horizons by trying something new and going beyond your comfort zone. You signaled to the Universe that you’re willing to take risks and that you take respect yourself enough to try BIG things in your life.

Had you NOT sent out that email due to fear of rejection, you would’ve been shrinking yourself, your world, and your potential opportunities. Do you see the difference?

Here are some other ways in which your soul defines success:

  • loving yourself through a setback
  • shifting a negative belief
  • taking action despite the possibility of rejection
  • not taking the outcome of something personally (because it often isn’t!)
  • standing back up or starting again after “failing”
  • redefining “failure” itself
  • giving yourself credit for moving forward after a disappointment
  • celebrating yourself for not freaking out after something you planned went awry or just didn’t work out.

Remember, expansion is your new definition of success. If you’re expanding and growing in some way, you have achieved success. It’s not about the outcome — it’s about the process. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself in the meantime!

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