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Success Measured in American and Other Cultures


In contemporary society, many people have a vague picture of what success could be and for most of them, success normally refers to looking like another person, other than who they are. Yet it defeats logic to imagine that one can be ten other people, besides the fact that nobody would even want to be. If anyone tried to become anything close to even one of the people he or she considers successful, he or she would merely be a bad imitation of such a person; and this would not only eliminate the chances of one becoming the person he or she should be but success would not be forthcoming either.

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Success does not appear in the same picture for any two persons because all human beings have individually been created as unique. The process of success however appears the same for all and is based on certain principles that do not change. Different cultures around the world have however measure success in practically different ways depending on the values of specific cultures (Maxwell 2008, pp.4, 14).

How the U.S and other cultures measure success

The American success culture has a long history that refers far back to several legal battles before the U.S Supreme court that determined the course that the American nation would take and gradually changed the U.S society. One Supreme Court battle led to another creating a continuous zeal to better society and improve the general status of its citizens. Since the 19th century, labor activists have build protest movements that proposed contract rights and inventive theories regarding employee property inorder to ward off plant closings. Countless lawsuits were also designed to challenge the constitutionality of the American war in Indochina but with meager success.

Lawyers representing the Haitian refugees in their resettlement plan sought to enjoin the lawsuit with Coast Guard’s interdiction, knowing very well that chances were high for the Supreme Court to favor government policy. These and many other legal battles in the U.S helped to mould a culture and community where oppressed groups have always had their constitutional aspirations brought before the court as a way of creating opportunity for every citizen to succeed.

Currently, civil rights groups, feminist movement, and gay and lesbian groups are actively involved in legal activism and discourse to protect their rights; a tradition that partly stems from the willingness and zeal which political and social activists of the 19th century had to fight for rights even in an unsympathetic court environment. This atmosphere created a mood for success in U.S society that runs to this very day but which is not longer determined by legal battles but by several other factors that are now used to measure success (Lobel 2003, p.6).

In the U.S, a nation popularly referred to as the land of good and plenty, singular achievement has for a long time been considered the pinnacle of success. The American Dream does not embrace group effort but rather, all individuals are expected to pull themselves by their own bootstraps. Those desiring to achieve big-business success for example can only reach the top by stepping over others on the rickety ladder upward.

According to Americans, success is not achieved through collective effort but through an individual determination and effort to succeed, accompanied by talent. As a result, social isolation has dramatically increased among Americans over the last two decades and the collapse of social networks, mainly group associations outside the family and among neighbors has been dramatic because people are too busy trying to climb the success ladder. Success is no longer just a goal that anyone should attain in life but it has somehow become an obsession and most people will not tolerate anything that comes between them and success.

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Currently, corporate capitalism is also one of the most dominant cultures in the U.S; a culture that recognizes the value of something only by placing a price tag on it. Under such a worldview, a person living in the U.S or Europe carries more worth than one living in Africa for example merely for the simple reason that the former has better access to more money. Such a value system is primarily based on achieving maximum human happiness by maximizing profit (Danaher, Briggs & mark 2007, pp. 8-9, 13).

Success is perhaps the most highly esteemed aspect of American and is related to several other aspects such as individualism, progress, experimenting, freedom, making money, and social mobility among others. In American culture, success is constantly identified with winning and a sharp line is normally drawn between victory and defeat. In business, sports and politics, Americans have a great passion to win and an equally great terror to lose.

In professional sports leagues for example, tie games are eliminated in favor of outright losers or winners and the American entrepreneurs who introduced European soccer to the U.S changed its rules in such a way that dreaded ties are avoided. Unlike many European countries that prefer political elections based on proportionate representation, elections in the U.S are success oriented, based on a model where the winner takes all. Instead of mediation, U.S law favors court-room drama that is designed to bring out clear losers or winners. Practically every aspect of U.S success culture is about winning and in this culture, success is invariably based on immediate or present accomplishments.

Yet as much as Americans worship success, they are also haunted by failure. American society celebrates winners and glorifies success stories. But eh American view of measuring success or failure by shot-tem consequences must be redefined so that the two concepts receive a historical understanding. In American law and political lives, initial defeat cold result in victory. Instead of using achievements as a measure for success, other long term factors such as persistence in time of difficulty, living out of values and the boldness to stand firm even in the face of defeat can be better determinants of success (Lobel 2003, pp.1-6).

Americans highly value success, progress and achievement and are always optimistic about a better tomorrow. Such values fuel technological change because the American culture hardly refers to old but instead thrives on change. This value of achievement and success is shared with the Japanese. Another byproduct of values is the American tendency to emphasize on youthfulness and exclude the elderly from most active aspects of their culture.

The Japanese on the other hand have a broader social context of success; progress and achievement than what is found in the U.S. Americans adopt such values on an individualistic perspective while the Japanese display a more selfless tone regarding the same values. In Japanese society, the common good of all is more valued than individual good and the elderly are highly honored for religious reasons but also because of the significant role that they have played in making Japanese history. Elderly people are highly esteemed as experienced and knowledgeable individuals whose view on progress is rather unique and who can also help in avoiding a plunge into progress merely for the sake of it (Wood et al., 2002, p.52).

Work in American culture is viewed as one of the most important measures of success. American work ethos are guided by punctuality, efficiency and practicality and in their quest for efficiency, Americans seek out any new technology that can save on time and effort. Technology is highly valued because it saves on time and also makes work easier therefore leading to more success. Time is also highly valued and is equally important to capital, labor and land in determining the success of businesses.

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Americans are obsessed with punctuality and time management is highly esteemed in American culture; while more agrarian oriented cultures may view the obsession for punctuality as rudeness. Americans are also encouraged to be self-reliant, an aspect that trains them to accept responsibility of their own choices (Wood et al, 2002, pp.53-54).

In American society, there is a general belief that success can be achieved individually through hard work and own effort. Americans seem to recognize that individuals have the capacity to change as long as the desire is real and strong. Hard work and self-discipline or inner direction are viewed as the most appropriate paths to personal success and achievement. The concepts of work, achievement, action, fairness and materialism are all entangled with the American value for individualism.

In the U.S, achievers have and are always admired, a factor that really motivates most people to succeed. The hard worker is the ideal person in this society; a concept that is also tied up with a strong belief in action, materialism, and social mobility as measures of achievement or success. Also closely related to these concepts is the strong belief in fairness. Little or no sympathy at all is accorded those who do not work hard or believe in working hard. Materialism is not only a measure of individual achievement but also of the quantifiable measure of the person’s success. Most Americans evaluate their progress and measure their success through materialism.

Social mobility therefore identifies a hard worker; becomes an integral part of achievement; and partly helps to measure one’s success. Americans highly believe in social mobility and that such movement can easily be achieved through education as well. It is a general belief in this culture that through education, a person can be able to position him or herself not only for work, but for success as well (Naylor 1998, pp.56-60).

Unlike the Americans who believe that hard work goes hand in hand with whether a person is smart or talented, the Japanese believe that intellectual achievement can be achieved even where there is no ability; through effort. Americans who try very hard and still fail may however acquire the understanding that talent and effort are not guarantees to success.

The Japanese belief in effort implies that an individual can succeed in academic as well as occupational domains as long as the person applies enough effort; and that those who do not succeed only fail because they did not try hard enough. For this reason, Japanese school going children are hardly allowed to choose those tasks or domains in which they excel and employees have to successfully do assigned jobs because of recent low social mobility.

This creates an attitude of persistence inorder to achieve and it is uncommon to find Japanese who have completely given up after previous incidents of failure. The belief in effort implies that any person is capable of performing very well in any domain as long as deliberate practice is applied for a lengthy period. Effort as a measure of success is therefore nurtured from an early age in Japanese society and failure is attributed to inadequate training by either parents or educators (Stenberg 2004, pp.318-321).

Success in America is usually associated with financial worth, material wealth, social status, fame, and education. This contrasts with the Native Indian belief that success does not come from what one gets but rather from what an individual does with what he or she has. Many other cultures also share this belief that every success must develop from the inside outwards. According to James, “the happiest people do not compare themselves to or compete against others but achieve their success from doing their best, based on their ability and nature.”

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The Najavo Indians for example have a cycle of ceremonies that form a beautiful system through which individuals are firmly rooted in their history, community and identity. These ceremonies however conflict with modern day life and those who choose to follow traditions often find themselves in a dilemma as they try to adapt into modern society. Yet, traditional Indian cultures place great importance or value t such aspects as spirituality as a measure of improving society, helping children, and creating individual progress.

For those raised and living on the reservations, the sense of the sacred and spiritual practices is strong and highly influences children’s lives. Najavo Indians also value the community and nay successful or learned person who is able to give back to his or her community is considered a success. Giving back to the community helps to nurture the talents of young children especially so that they do not only achieve success in their education; but in life and in their communities as well (James 2001, pp.20, 65-67).

Most Americans also have a unique courage to venture into new ideas as they search for better ways of improving their success. Americans generally want to succeed and success has become the American dream that has been passed down to generations of U.S children and also attracted millions of immigrants to this nation. Every American wants to succeed at something and whoever does not embrace this mentality is considered a failure. Because success has become a central part of America’s self-image and because most Americans hope as well as expect to achieve, failure in this culture is detested. There is something about failure that this culture generally does not want to accommodate.

The American dream ideology gives no provision for failure because a failed dream does not only deny success to the loser but also denies them a safe harbor in which they can hide the loss. They have a very competitive outlook and disregard losers while winners are highly esteemed. Winning at whatever cost has become an acceptable norm in many fields such as education, business, sports and even individual Americans’ personal relationships.

Practically every American is introduced to competition very early in life; at home, in leisure activities, in school, and in personal relationships. This has made Americans quite direct and aggressive but also very insensitive towards others, even those to whom they are closely related. Competition determines ones position in almost every aspect of life. Progress is also another measure of success in American culture. For Americans, progress is an indication of better and the future and progress are measured on concrete things. Anyone who desires to achieve or be accepted into the membership of a group must conform to the cultural groups they are affiliated to or the national culture (Naylor 1998, pp.60-62).

In sports, teams only receive support as long as they are on the winning front. A lot of financial support is accorded to winning teams and players get very handsome salaries making them heroes and making sports a measure of success for the players and athletes.

It is quite common for a talented athlete to receive millions of dollars in payment to play in a very short season and even if such a person may have come from a poor background or even lacked formal education, talent and hard work enable him or her to succeed. Other less talented individuals will spend lots of time and money in leisure sports such as golfing, hiking, fishing, surfing among others and in such a way, sporting and leisure have become measures of success in American culture. Some time every year, many Americans will go for vacation and this means additional expenditure as well as travel for some.

These leisure activities are done with gusto and a lot of resources are committed to the activities. Other well-to-do individuals may even be in a position to own professional sports teams or even individually provide financial backing for visual and performing art. All these types of leisure involvement or professional involvement represent a public affirmation that sports and leisure have become measures of success in American society (Naylor 1998, pp.133-114).


Success is an integral part of every society and whether on individual or community level, no society can advance without success. The concept of succeeding provides a conducive environment for moving forward; creating competition not only between individuals but across different societies. Although the values attached to success may differ between various cultures, whatever the directions taken all have success as their ultimate goal. The desire and value for success creates social mobility; individual, communal and national pride as well as offering opportunities for others so that they too can have the opportunity to go up the success ladder. Success comes with new opportunities, better financial status for those involved and generally trickles down to the wider community.


Danaher,.K, Biggs S. and Mark J. (2007). Building the green economy. Sausalito, CA Polipoint Press.

James, K. (2001). Science and Native American communities: Legacies of pain, visions of promise. Lincoln, ME: U of Nebraska Press.

Lobel, J. (2003). Success without victory: Lost legal battles and the long road to justice in America. New York: NYU Press.

Maxwell, J.C. (2008). Success 101. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

Naylor, L. (1998). American culture: myth and reality of a culture of diversity. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Stenberg, R.J. (2004). International handbook of intelligence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wood, D.F., Barone A.P., Murphy P., Kin and Wardlow D.L. (2002). International logistics. New York: Amacom Div American Mgmt Assn.

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