The Fascinating Truths About How We Define Success (+ How To Clarify Your Definition)
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Recently, Populace (a think tank) and Gallup partnered to ask Americans how they define success.
The study reveals a stark difference between how we define success and how we believe others in society define success.
Here are some of the findings:
· Most Americans believe other people define success by status (like wealth, title or fame), but less than 10% of people apply this standard to their definition of success.
· There is no "average" definition of success. Everyone tends to have a highly unique, personal view.
· Despite thinking that other people measure success mainly in the professional realm, we assess ourselves in a variety of domains, including character, relationships, and education.
While I found the results fascinating, I wasn't surprised.
As a coach to under-fulfilled and overwhelmed professionals, I've had ring-side seats to this profound internal dialogue for the last few years. I've worked with surgeons, lawyers, advertising and marketing executives, CEOs, leaders in high-growth technology companies, millennials, PHDs, architects, and non-profit leaders.
The question we are wrestling with is the same.
What does success mean to me, and whose version am I pursuing?
In addition to being an essential question, it is also a guiding one. When you have your definition of success clarified, it becomes your compass at work and in life. It informs your behaviours and decisions.
Aligning your actions with your definition of success can lead to increased well-being, motivation, meaning and purpose. It can move you from anxious to calm, from uncertain to confident, and from adrift to purposeful.
So, where do you start if you want to define success on your terms?
I'm going to offer you one of my favourite questions to get to the core of your success definition in just a second.
But first, I want to share what led me to redefine success.
When I worked in executive search, I knew exactly what success meant in my job. If my revenues exceeded my sales targets, I succeeded. For a long time, that drove me to perform. I loved meeting goals, being an expert in my field and the sense of professional satisfaction that came along with those achievements.
After ten years, I began to feel less engaged and motivated by those goals.
Around the same time, my father received a devastating diagnosis – terminal cancer – and I found out that I was a carrier of the mutated gene that led to his illness.
At that moment, I realized I might have a lot less time to live than I thought.
After my father's death, I started to think about the life I wanted to live, so that at the end, whenever that would be, there would be no regrets. I discovered that what I wanted out of my life was broader than just being successful at work. I also wanted to be present with my family and friends, to take time to savour activities that bring me joy, and to find meaning in my work. My problem was that I was so stressed out and drained. I didn't have the energy or time to do those things.
My new version of success required me to make changes. I decided to leave the stress of sales targets behind. I took courses on topics that interested me. I prioritized relationships, did more stuff just for fun and started taking movement classes.
Changing my perspective and learning to embrace a broader view of success hasn't always been easy. I still find it challenging not to measure myself against society's version of working long hours to make as much money as possible.
It takes practice and persistence, reminding myself of what I want to achieve.
The good news is that quitting your job is not a pre-requisite to redefining success. You don't need to have "a passion" or "pursue your bliss," either.
Most of my clients redefine AND pursue their new definition of success in the same job and life they already have.
If that sounds like something you'd like to do, here's an easy way to get started.
Grab a pen and paper and go somewhere quiet. Reflect on the following question and try to write everything that comes to mind. Try to write for 7-10 minutes without stopping.
What do you want to happen in your life so that you consider it satisfying and well-lived?
Then read over your response. What do you notice?
To receive coaching questions like this directly to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter now.
When you do, I'll send you my Start with the End in Mind worksheet. It's an eye-opening activity to help you tackle the question of success in a new way.
Click here to read the Populace/Gallup study.