I was recently asked the following question: At the end of your life, how do you know if you’ve succeeded? I wasn’t sure how to answer. Before you can achieve success, you need to define what success means to you. Without a clear vision of what success means to you, you cannot work towards it.
Success means different things to different people. If you ask 100 people what their definition of success is, you may get 100 different answers. It’s common to have multiple definitions of success. Success is measured in many areas, such as career, academic, health, spiritual, emotional, and financial.
To find your own personal definition of success, you need to dig deep within yourself and question your values in life. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is important to you? Answering questions like this brings you closer to your own definition of success. This process can be a long one. You may not get the answers quickly.
Let’s take your career as an example. What would your definition of success be in regards to your career? To make a certain managerial level by a specified time? To make a specified amount of money? To experience great job satisfaction? You then need to dig deep to see how these goals fit with your own strengths and weaknesses. Which strengths would help you achieve your goal? Which of your weaknesses could be a barrier? Do your goals go against any of your values? Sometimes you will adjust your definition of success based on your answers.
When defining success, remember one important thing – Success is a journey. It has multiple peaks and valleys and not one ultimate pinnacle. One success builds on another. Setbacks and mistake also help you build success – don’t be afraid of them.
You will define success differently depending on what is happening in your life. Success is defined differently for a new college graduate than for a new father. It really depends on the perspective of life you have.
There is a difference between accomplishment and success. Accomplishment is where you have engaged in an action and have obtained the desired results. It is based on what was expected and the end result. This is a daily happening in the world. People accomplish things all day long, but success is not always achieved in these actions.
Success is something different. Success involves an ongoing string of accomplishments that when put together, add up to a major obtainment in life. The addition of all the accomplishments in a person’s career or life can be viewed as success. Success can then be partially defined as an ongoing realization and obtainment of worthy desired results, concerning actions, life, business, wealth, or a worthy ideal. True success occurs when your heart is deeply connected to an ideal. It is passion. It is what people die for. It is why some people explode out of the gates and create success easily, and others struggle all their life. These people are often operating on a whole different realm of success and action.
The true definition of success is not the one held by society. You do not have to become a gazillionaire or a celebrity. Having material possessions and career accomplishments should only be a means to a goal – It shouldn’t be the goal. Some people equate the word “success” with recognition. Recognition may be a sign of success, but it is not the end result. Success is also not comparative and dependent on being better than others.
There are several levels to success. At one level you must overcome your own personal demons, such as losing weight, forgiving your parents, ceasing to worry about how others judge you. We all have these issues to overcome in one form or another. The next level is when you to try to prove yourself to the world. You compete, you win and you grow. True success is about using your power, position and all your resources to make a positive difference in this world. Realizing and internalizing this should wake one up from blindly accepting the world’s definition of success, and make them focus more on true success.
Some people keep after success for as long as they live. Until the day they die they keep a sense of wonder, of curiosity, of zest. They care about things. They reach out. They enjoy. They risk failure. They discover new things about themselves. This is in direct correlation to how they define success.
I’d like to leave you with two ideas about success. The first is part of a commencement address at San Jose State College by John W. Gardner in 1969. It goes like this: “The conventional thing for me to do in closing would be to wish you success. But success as the world measures it is too easy. I would like to wish you something that is harder to come by. So I am going to wish you meaning in your life. And meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life, starting fairly early and working at it fairly hard. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of mankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the yardstick by which the world measures success will hardly be relevant.”
The other is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The definition of success – To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.”
Both of these address the measurement of success in intangible ways. The next time you feel pressure to think of success in terms of stature or money, think about these words. They may very well change your definition of success.
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