A client once told me that she has issues with the word “success”. She explained that to her, it smacks of stressed-out stock market brokers and old men in board meetings, smoking cigars. I laughed and asked her what was so bad about that, if it’s what these people want?
Her answer was revealing: “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not an idea I relate to.”
It was revealing because it showed that the only problem she had with the idea was her rather rigid notions of what success constitutes. She had a point, too: Most people will answer along the same lines if you ask them how they define “success”.
I’m here today to challenge these ideas. Of course, we live in a world where certain expectations have become the norm, and achievement in education and the corporate world are part of it. However, this doesn’t mean success can only be achieved within these parameters.
Why is this relevant for you? Because it provides you with a different way of evaluating your life. I hope it’ll also give you confidence in creating a successful future, even if it doesn’t conform to society’s concepts.
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The dictionary defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. Isn’t that interesting? “An” aim, not any particular one. Not riches or a great career.
For Stephen Covey, it’s up to the individual. He recommended thinking of what you’d like people to say at your funeral. That’s the best indication of what success means to you.
In one of the personal development workshops I’ve visited over the years, I heard the definition which makes most sense to me personally: Success is moving towards your goals in all areas of your life. This of course assumes that you have (written) goals and review them regularly, because that’s the most effective way to keep track of everything and measure progress.
In a way, my approach includes Covey’s, because your goals should of course be aligned with your purpose and your overall vision for your life. This is also were passion comes in: Whatever lights you up, should feature prominently in your goals. It all fits together.
Here’s how you can make it work in your own life.
Time to get personal
Definitions aside, it was a huge relief when I discovered how open the term “success” really is. I don’t have any particular hunger for outside validation, but it’s nice to know even just for myself that I’m doing something right.
So what’s success to you? What are you accomplishing, which goals are you progressing towards? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, it’s time to go back to basics and write down some goals. I firmly believe this is the most basic, fundamental step towards success.
The next step sounds a little wishy-washy, while it’s actually the most accurate measure I know of. It the joy-and-passion meter! How often do you feel excitement and passion? How many of the six main areas of life – health, job/business, finances, relationships, self – light you up with joy?
In my opinion, the best measure of success is thriving. At first glance, the joy and passion you feel might not have anything to do with you moving towards your goals, but they are deeply connected. Here’s why:
If you don’t have goals in each of the above six areas, review them regularly and take steps towards achieving them, any passion or joy you feel will be short-lived like the proverbial flash in a pan. For joy to become a steady flame, it needs to be fuelled by regular, consistent action.
When you progress towards your goals, being lit up becomes your natural state. The trick is realising that joy and passion aren’t static; they need constant evolvement. It doesn’t matter if you change your goals on the fly. In fact, achieving your goals is almost secondary to what you experience along the way of working towards them. Even if you end up changing your mind and going for a new, different goal, nobody can ever take away the experiences and the growth you’ve gained in the meantime.
When you keep evolving along whatever lights you up, you can’t help but thrive. You’ll feel alive and you’ll be in constant motion. Other people will be drawn to your flame and swept along in your joy, and these are the things which make you the greatest success you can be.