Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Only You Can Define Success



A few years ago, I was offered a promotion. A much more prestigious position, and a significant raise. I anguished about the decision to accept or not for about a week. The fact that I didn’t want it was distressing to me. 

I felt it was my duty to accept this mark of success. I felt like it was ungrateful to turn it down. It felt like a betrayal of my potential to shun an opportunity to rise.

I turned it down. I helped train the outside hire that they found for the position. Then, a couple months later, I quit the job and used my savings to go travel. 

And I don’t regret it a bit. Because in the end, succeeding at something that you don’t want is NOT success.

Since then, I’ve learned that my story isn’t unique--not at all. More and more, people are finding that the classic definition of success just isn’t fitting. 

It’s not providing the fulfillment and satisfaction that we were told it would. 

The Third Metric


Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, says, “We need a Third Metric… a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power.” 



She points out widespread work burnout and dissatisfaction, along with the famously miserable lives of celebs and billionaires as evidence that our society is obsessed with pursuing the wrong things.

The problem with promoting just one narrow view of success is that different people have different values. The goals of the past aren’t working for our increasingly diversified workforce anymore. 

Many women are finding that the male-defined standards of success just don’t match their needs, and the rising workforce of millennials are thinking outside of the box, looking for different paths to fulfillment.

Defining Success


The dictionary has two definitions of success: (1) the acquisition of wealth, power, and in some cases, fame. (2) The achievement of a defined goal. We’ve already pointed out that the first definition needs tweaking, but I’ll throw my weight behind the second. 


The problem, of course, is deciding what that goal should be. After all, the only thing worse than pursuing empty dreams is not working towards any goal at all, and sitting dead in the water, frozen by indecision.

So, to get you started on the right path, I’ve thought out four steps to help you come to your own personal definition of success:

1. Banish Fear


While fear can sometimes work as a powerful motivator, fear of the wrong things can cripple us. Fear of social scorn can keep us from those things that we love the most. Fear of disappointing others may box us into externally-defined goals. Fear of failure is often the thing that hold us back. 


But, as Thomas J. Watson said, the formula for success is simple: “Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes.” 

2. Ask Yourself Some Soul-Searching Questions


  • If you had all the money and power and fame that you could possibly want already… what would you do with your time and talents? As Oprah says, “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it.” That’s how you find something that isn’t the means to the end, but rather, the end itself. 
  • What do you want to be remembered for? Stephen Covey, author of the groundbreaking Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.” What is the legacy that you want to leave behind?
  • Where do you find flow? Flow is a state of mind comparable to meditation and even bliss. It’s what happens when we are completely immersed in an activity, utterly self-motivated and in-the-moment. You might call it being “in the zone.” Where’s that place for you? What if you could make it your life’s work? 
  • What strengths do you have to contribute to the world? The dilemma of talent versus passion is a judgment call that all of us must make when defining success for ourselves. Is success found in simply doing what we do best? Or in doing what we love most? The secret is that for many people, talents and passions often align. So learning where your talents lie can be an important step in finding success. Since we tend to be blind about our own strengths and weaknesses, sometimes learning your true talents takes a series of honest discussions with your loved ones and peers. 


3. Do the Time


One of the biggest mistakes that we make is not laying the groundwork for success. As Steve Jobs says, “If you look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” 


While money and power are inaccurate gauges of success, they can be the enablers that give us the freedom to pursue our true purpose. If your true goal is to raise your children in a stable, happy home, you’ll need the means to support them, and time to spend with them. 

If your goal is to start an organization that finds solutions for local hunger, it might take some time gaining experience, funds, and industry contacts in order to make it happen. It might even take a few failed attempts.

The point is that when you have a goal in mind that you’re journeying towards, those failures pale. The daily grind can become a joy because it serves a higher purpose.

Now, you may come to a point where your goals and personal definition of success have to be re-evaluated. While you should never compromise your definition, it will change and grow as you do. 

So be honest and don’t be afraid to re-calibrate. In the end, only you can determine whether or not you are a success.

4. Be Grateful


There’s one more thing that I want to say about success before I go: sometimes success is built up of those things that we already have. 


The ability to pursue success instead of simply survival is a luxury for which you should be grateful. Richness is not a measure of how much money you have, but how much you are grateful to have. 

You may find that the thing that your neighbor has been questing for their whole life--for example, a place to call home--is something that you already have. 


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