This is perhaps one of the major questions for many of us.
Maybe underpinning that question & equally difficult to answer is, “How do I know if I have been/am successful?”
Success is a very subjective term. It can mean 1100 things to 1000 different people!
I was chatting with a good friend recently & we were wrestling with
- What is success?
- What does it mean to be successful?
- How can we be content with whatever success we’ve had until now?
- How can we use that to go forward with expectation?
As you can imagine, this was not a short conversation, especially when you consider that the two people involved in the discussion frequently ask these same questions about their own lives! 🙂 We certainly did not discuss the topic exhaustively but here are some of the major outcomes for us which I hope will be helpful to you too:
- Define Success For Yourself: Many of us trap ourselves in trying to live our lives to please others (friends, team-mates or family). We try & live according to definitions, standards or expectations that are completely different to our own & in so-doing we become discouraged. For many years I was so focussed on trying to please my parents & live up to what I thought were their expectations that I lost my way, eventually falling into a 2-year episode of serious depression. It is so important that we define for ourselves what success is, even if that does not line-up with the views of others
- Our Ideas of Success are Likely to Change with Time: Do not be surprised if what you think unimportant now becomes important later on and vice-versa. When I was younger my idea of success was quite narrow: good job, good money, house, family. As I grew older my priorities changed & my idea of success began to rely less on money & good job and started to include things like maintaining good health, the friends around me, contentment with job, maintaining personal integrity.
- Set Realistic Targets But Don’t Be Afraid to Aim High: I am 55 years old, have poor eyesight & very little flying experience so setting my sights on becoming an astronaut is a bit unrealistic (to say the least)! We may laugh but I wonder how many times we set the odds against us by unrealistic expectations of ourself & of others: we give little space or chance of achievement & so become disillusioned & discouraged along the way. As a result we may be afraid to set targets to succeed for fear of failure. So, I may not become an astronaut, but if my target was say, some flying lessons or a visit to NASA HQ in Florida, my target becomes more realistic & achievable. I am also more likely to succeed, continue forward & achieve more than I thought possible by taking smaller, realistic steps.
- Spend Time Considering Your Own Successes: If you’re anything like me you’ll be brilliant at seeing the achievements & successes of others but blind to your own achievements! Sometimes spending time looking at our successes, however big or small we think they are, is a great booster. I believe it also enables us to maintain a more realistic view of what success really is. There’s nothing like encouragement to fire the will.
- Encourage One Another: If No 4 is a real struggle, find one or two trusted friends or people who know you & ask them what they would see as your successes. I can guarantee that you will be very surprised, not only by how they gauge success but also by how often things that are insignificant to you are often highly significant to others. This is different to living-out the expectations of others: it enables us to review our ideas of success & sometimes to broaden or revise them.
- Keep Records of Your Successes: If you’re not good at remembering successes (& this includes selective memory 🙂 ) write down your successes in a book. This does not have to be War & Peace but a visual record over time often helps to keep our thinking healthy & balanced. If we do forget, the evidence is there before us to challenge any distorted thinking or perception.
- Success is About You, Not a Comparison With Others: I find that one of the greatest killers of self-confidence or awareness of my successes is when I’m compared with someone else. I remember receiving my O-Level results & telling my parents with great enthusiasm, only to be compared with a friend who’d done better! My successes instantly became failures; my perception was “I’m not good enough!” Sound familiar? My only comparison should be with myself when it comes to ranking achievement e.g., “Have I done better than last time?” If I know my measure of success then that is really the only scale that I need to compare myself with. It is also the scale to which others should compare me. Of course we listen to others & consider their opinions but we must also be careful not to allow ourselves to have the sense of achievement sucked-out of us by slavishly accepting or doing what others tell us. I hope this makes sense!
- There is More to Success Than First Meets the Eye: I know people who are outwardly successful but inwardly failing. They have all the visual appearance of what I may think of as success but in reality those same things are little more than a shell or outward charade of the reality that is happening inside these people. There have been so many stories of people who have suddenly come into great success e.g., winning a lottery, only to discover later that what appears to be a blessing actually turns into a curse as friends fall away, unscrupulous people become short-term friends for their own personal gain, relationships & trust break down etc. Again, this is not a shot at people who have these things; it’s a warning that these things should not start to get out of proportion & rule us.
- Be Content With What You Have Achieved (But Strive For More): There is a difference between ambition without contentment & ambition with contentment. Contentment is about being comfortable with who you are, where you are, what you do etc. When we are content we are also happy. That does not mean that we just stay where we are but it gives a foundation on which to move forward. Ambition without contentment can become a killer of relationships, trust & health, literally. I believe that contentment is a key part of success. Without it we lack a safety net or meaningful standard against which we can asses our progress.
- Celebrate Your Successes: One thing many of us Brits are very poor at doing is celebrating successes; success for ourselves & the success of others. From personal experience, if I cannot celebrate the success of others then I find it incredibly difficult to celebrate my own success. If we achieve we should be thankful & celebrate it; not in a way that rubs it in everyone else’s faces but in a way that allows us to feel what we’ve achieved, rather than just knowing it. Emotional engagement is, I believe, a key part of a healthy celebration of success.
So, not too much to think about today then! 🙂
I’m hoping that as you read the above you will have noticed that I see success as something that is much deeper & more significant at a personal level than just wealth, status, possessions or money. None of these things are inherently bad, but when they become our sole focus they can not only become powerful masters, they can also lead to a sense of never having quite made it.
Perhaps if we are able to start by defining a few achievable goals that are realistic, sit comfortably with us & encourage us as we achieve them, we will not only be able to achieve more, but also build our confidence to set higher goals when necessary.
Above all, be patient with yourself, especially if targets seem to take forever to reach or if you fail to achieve them first time.
Most of us will have a number of short, medium & long-term targets for success on the go at any one time. If you need more confidence to reach your longer-term goals, you may find setting a few more achievable short-term goals will help.
So what is success?
For me, it is about being content with where you are now whilst also being able to look forward to greater achievements in future. It’s about understanding your own life-values & standards and not compromising on these (personal integrity). It’s about being able to celebrate the things, feelings etc that are important you.
I’d love to hear your views & experiences on this subject if you have time.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time …