These and many other questions were the subject of the Wenner-Gren workshop on the Social Life of Achievement held in Cambridge in September 2010. Jonathan Mair and Joanna Cook, members of the Buddhist Ethics Network, gave two talks that sought to shed light on Buddhist ideas of achievement and success.
Many contributions to the workshop drew on psychological work on the relationship between different models of achievement and outcomes. Jonathan Mair pointed out that although the various models discussed by psychologists seem to be very different from each other, they share important assumption about the givenness of the self. On some of those models, success is a product of the self, in others, it is independent of the self. In either case though, the self is seen as a given.
Jonathan went on to explain that Buddhist ideas about success are often premised on a very different idea: that the self is not given and fixed, but a malleable product of persons' histories, environments and actions. As an example, he introduced ideas of achievement and self-cultivation among followers of Tibetan Buddhism in Inner Mongolia.
In conclusion, Jonathan argued that conceptions of achievement in which the self itself is achieved are found in many other contexts (for example in official Chinese discourses of 'population quality') and that they raise important questions for any comparative study of the subject, in particular, the relationship of achievement and personal responsibility, and the relationship of achievements to each other.