“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” -Anne Sweeney
What does success look like? This is the million dollar question. Our education, training, and ambition make us wake up in the morning and spend our days at the grind to eventually achieve this grandiose goal.
But the traditional measure of success is wearing us down:
• 80% of people are stressed out at work.
• 52% are unhappy at work.
· 68.5% of the population are not engaged or actively disengaged at work.
What does this data tell us? I would say the best barometers are the 52% that are unhappy and the 68.5% that are not engaged or actively disengaged. My conclusion is that people are either unsuccessful or don’t feel successful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.
What is Success?
Is an executive making $250k/year successful if he hates his job? If it takes him away from his family and the other things he’d love to pursue? The artist who makes a small income but is fulfilled by making music—is he considered unsuccessful due to his meager income and lack of notoriety?
The traditional answer has been money, fame, and power. Merriam-Webster defines success as achieving wealth, respect, or fame. We’ll deem someone as successful by the amount of money they make, the amount of their possessions, or their job title.
The U.S. is generally a materialistic country. We live in a place where bigger is better. More is better. Bigger paychecks and bigger homes. More money, more cars, more stuff! The path is to go to college, get a job, work your ass off, and accept your rewards along the way.
We associate success with our net worth instead of self-worth.
Self-worth isn’t sexy though. It doesn’t give you stylish clothes, toys, lavish vacations, and it doesn’t fuel our egos. Sports, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Washington D.C. They seem to tell us that winning and crushing the competition is success. If you win and crush the competition, you’ll get a big shiny prize at the end. In comes consumerism which is spearheaded by brands pushing their products on you to display your success to the world.
But I’m not putting the blame on these industries. Regardless, we idolize winning in the U.S.
Work hard. Grind. Sacrifice. Whatever it takes. Sleep when you die. Win or go home. These are catch phrases we use as motivation to lead us to success. Is that for you? Will it make you feel fulfilled? If so, go for it. If not, re-think your strategy.
I worked my ass off at a sales job and rewarded myself by buying a BMW. Did it fulfill me? Not at all. The dealer said it’ll give me confidence. “I’m already confident,” was my thought. But I thought my car would instill a level of success in myself.
A New Definition of Success
Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion. —Tony Hsieh
A new definition of success has been brewing in the past couple years. A percentage of the population are shifting their success measurement from money, fame, and power to something more intrinsic. Something that causes true fulfillment. The hard part is some of these things can’t be measured, quantified, and purchased. These brave souls are doing what I hope you end up doing—challenging the status quo. Success has been defined on their terms.
Daniel Pink’s Drive debunks the definition of traditional success.
People need to pursue three intrinsic elements: autonomy—being self-directed, mastery—excelling at something that matters, and purpose—the longing to work on something much bigger than yourself.
Money is an important element for workers but it isn’t the sole factor. The amount of money provided should be sufficient to cover their needs. This should be enough so that money is now taken off the table.
• Personal growth
• Meaningful relationships
• Living true to your values
• Good health
All of the aforementioned are new definitions of success.
Don’t mean to digress but I want to warn you about happiness. Acknowledging happiness as a goal can lead you down the trap of chasing success. Happiness is a mindset, not an end goal.
What Does Success Mean to You?
Knowing what success means to you is a very deep and personal question. Getting in tune with your why is one way to get there. Maybe it is money, fame, and power. It is completely fine if it is.
But the crucial question to answer is, “What is going to fulfill you?”
Here are a few other tips to help you figure out what success means to you.
1. Drown out the noise
There are a multitude of distractions in existence in the world.
In the context of success, these distractions steer you into the traditional definition: money, fame, and power. Who knows, maybe money, fame, and power is your definition of success. And that’s completely fine. Marketing is constantly evolving to tell us what success is. People market their glamorous lives showing you how successful they are. Brands market their products to make you feel successful when you buy their shit (notice how I said “shit?” I just caught this. Click on the “stuff” hyperlink at the beginning of this article to know what I’m talking about).
A secondary question to ask yourself is, “What excites me?”
2. Don’t compare yourself to others
By far the most dangerous thing to do. Success will always be relative. If you make $150k/year, there is someone out there earning $200k/year. If you have an MBA, someone out there has a PhD. Comparing yourself to others can be used as motivation but that should be the end of it. Comparing yourself to others can be a one-way ticket to unhappiness.
The American Psychological Association concluded that engaging in creative endeavors no matter the activity can cultivate a high level of self-worth. The study supported the idea that the creative medium is irrelevant. It could be writing, cooking, drawing, etc. Whatever your hobbies or desired hobbies, the important thing is to become engaged in them. The study reported the participants feeling happy and active were more likely to be doing something creative at the time.
When we express ourselves in a way that brings out the best in us, we’ve already succeeded. —Thomas Oppong
It’s safe to say that engaging in creative activities can lead to fulfillment. What projects are you working on at work? What tasks and mundane activities could you turn into a creative project? I challenge you to take a creative approach to your work.
And you don’t need anyone’s permission to create. Throw your stuff at the wall and see if it sticks if that’s what it takes. It’s better than sitting on the sidelines. There are plenty of benchwarmers. You’re not a fucking benchwarmer.
You’re a badass motherfucker.
Take note of the things you think will make you feel successful. Question if that is truly what you want. Is your judgment clouded by the outside world, or is that inherently what you want?
• Why do you want to be successful?
• What excites you?
• What will fulfill you?
• Focus on self-worth, not just net worth.
Only you know what you really want out of life. Success can be an end goal but just like happiness, it is a frame of mind.
Defining success for yourself is your next task. What does success mean to you?