"Success in life" is one of those useless, maybe even insidious terms, like "happiness." Perhaps the rare independent thinkers among us rebel against such hollow terms and follow the beat of their own inner drummers, but most of us accept the default socio-cultural standards of whatever socio-cultural milieu we live in. Fish in water.
As one example, I gave up my delusions of grandeur in late adolescence as most people seem to do when the reality of our limits sinks in. Change the world and all of that. As far as I could tell, I had no rare talents, passions, or bold new ideas but I liked to work and to learn so I pursued the conventional bourgeois format of education, financial security, raising interesting kids, and becoming a member of the gentry like my parents and grandparents. Some comfort, some security, a warm home, lots of hobbies, interests, and friends. I bought into the conventions of my personal background. Is that "success"? Security and comforts seem like lame aspirations, lacking in adventure and risk, but what else can an ordinary person do?
The youth of today seem to be having a hard time achieving the post-war conventions of success: house, picket fence, secure job with room for advancement. "...many Americans believe the changing economy is rewriting the rules of success, the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll has found."
Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles
Subterranean Homesick Blues
In middle age, we reflect on these things. Have I used God's gifts as best I could have? Have I been as benevolent and constructive being as I could have? Sacrificial enough for my conscience? Did I make enough money? Will I leave behind me things and memories of charm and beauty if not a handful of inspiring ideas? Thus far, lived with integrity and to my standards of behavior? Make a lovely, rich- (not money-rich) enough life for my wife and kids? Helped enough people through life messes? Loved my neighbor as myself? Admittedly, these are socio-culturally-determined questions but I think they are typically-American.