Everyone measures success differently. Some people measure it by their net worth, others define themselves by their job title and career, and still others gauge it by their possessions, such as their house, cars, and jewelry.
While these may be outward signs of success that you can point to and show people, they may not be satisfying your deepest desires.
Success is often defined by our outside influences. But it should be defined by our own desires.
When we think of the trappings of success, we are often really thinking of other people’s perceptions. We do what we think we have to do so that other people look at us and feel envy – wow, what a nice car/job/bank account balance. If we were all hermits living completely alone, odds are we wouldn’t be pursuing those unnecessary luxuries quite so vigorously.
By viewing success from the viewpoint of another, we mire ourselves in someone else’s idea of success – and lose control over our personal destiny.
This lack of control can put us into debt as we purchase things we can’t afford, pursue an unfulfilling career path, and constantly chase what other people think success means.
The other downside of this approach is that it’s impossible to win. There will always be something more that you think someone else expects you to do. If you live by someone else’s expectations, you’ll never achieve “success” – you’ll only find more and bigger and harder-to-attain expectations.
When we personalize success based on our desires, we become content.
We don’t often think about success in terms of other people’s perceptions vs. our own, so take a minute to do an exercise with me and figure it out.
Write down everything you’ve done so far in your life that makes you successful from your point of view in one column and what makes you successful from the point of view of others in another column. Some of the things you come up with will fit on both lists.
Put a star by everything that you have done because you thought someone else wanted or expected you to do it.
Did you go into the family business because your family assumed you would when you really wanted to go to college and become an artist? Did you buy the BMW when what your family really needs is a van? Did you go shopping with friends and buy something you didn’t want because everyone else had shopping bags in hand?
Now write down what you want to do that will make you feel successful.
It can be something as simple as going through a whole week without yelling at your spouse. That means that a healthy family relationship is important. It could be finishing that story you started in seventh grade, or getting acknowledgement from someone who matters to you, or – sure – even something material, like owning a home.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s based on money, emotional impact, or something else entirely. Think about where you would be, what you’d be doing, and how you’d feel when you were really successful, and describe that moment. This is about you.
Now take a look at the list of things you’ve done because someone else influenced you. How different are those things from your own personally-influenced idea of success?
Odds are, they’re pretty far apart. So how do you stop pursuing someone else’s idea of success and start pursuing your own?
First, and most importantly, you have to be willing to change what isn’t working for you. Take a look at the things that you don’t really want to do, but tolerate because they’re indicators of “success” – long hours, a high-powered job, a commute, coworkers you don’t care for.
Now take a stab at seeing what you can do, if anything, to change those situations. Some changes may be too large to contemplate right now – switching careers entirely, for example, may not be feasible. However, could you set aside a little time every week to learn new skills? Could you delegate some of the work that drains most of your energy?
By shifting yourself away from other people’s idea of success and giving yourself more time to focus on what would really make you successful, you may not make a huge change overnight – but you will be slowly orienting yourself toward a better outcome.
Success can be taken in small chunks, but those small chunks will eventually move you toward a long-term, larger change – one that really feels successful to you.
Many times we stick with what we know because it’s comfortable and we can live with it. The happiest people stretch themselves out of these boundaries – and when they do, they find true success lies outside of their comfort zone.
Don’t fail yourself when defining what you personally want to feel successful. Once you define what success means to you, make a plan to achieve it and go for it!