A few weeks back I was guest lecturing at the University of Colorado, Denver for a Leadership Psychology class. While my specific topic was the science and psychology of goal-setting, we started the discussion by talking about the science of success, what it means to be successful, and how psychology and leadership play into success.
On that basis, I asked the students to define “success”, and all their answers were rather similar. They pretty much fell into one of two categories… material wealth and/or positions of power.
In fairness, these are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 20-somethings in a highly competitive honors program who have their sights set high. And most of them haven’t had the life experiences that would lead them to view success in any other way.
But when the 3-hour class was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about their perceptions of what makes a person successful.
So I came home and did what any logical person would do. I googled it. :) Which led me to this definition…
“The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or
endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals. The attainment
of wealth, position, honors, or the like.”
No wonder this is their view!
Now, I’m not saying the dictionary is wrong in its definition, but I can tell you that the research points to a different definition.
The True Definition of Success
According to studies that specifically evaluated what “success” means to those who are already viewed as successful, the common themes were:
- work-life balance,
- enjoyable work,
- a personal sense of accomplishment,
- being able to learn and develop skills, and
- earning a salary that provides a comfortable lifestyle.
What truly successful people know is that when power and wealth are your only barometers for success, happiness will continually elude you.
John Wooden, famed basketball coach, personally defined it this way, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
So what’s my point to all this?
In my work as a coach and consultant, I often work with people and organizations who are frustrated by their accomplishments because they are measuring their success by someone else’s yardstick.
They have yet to realize that in order to truly be successful, you first have to define what success means to you.
But once they take the time to introspect on their personal definition of success, and define it clearly for themselves, suddenly things shift.
How To Personally Define What Success Means to You
Luckily, crafting your own personal definition of success is an easy process that can be completed in three simple steps...
1. Begin with the end in mind.
2. Determine what makes you happy.
3. Connect with your why.
Step 1: Begin with the end in mind by fast-forwarding to the end of your life. Picture yourself in your final days, looking back on your life and introspecting on all you've done and achieved. What will you be most proud of?
- Will it be the last title on your resume... or the people you inspired and elevated along the way?
- Will it be the business colleagues you interacted with at corporate meetings.... or the supportive friends and family that saw you through thick and thin?
- Will it be the industry accolades you received... or the beaming pride you felt when your children graduated from college?
The answers will be different for all of us, but beginning with the end in mind and introspecting on what truly matters to you is the first step in crafting your personal definition of success.
Step 2: Determine what truly makes you happy. What brings a smile to your face and warmth to your heart? What makes you feel like you're on top of the world and unable to contain your wonder and excitement? What are you doing when you lose yourself in the moment and suddenly realize four hours have passed in the blink of an eye? What TRULY makes you happy?
Success and happiness go hand-in-hand. Only when the connection between the two is truly understood can your authentic definition of success start to surface.
Step 3: Connect with your why. Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, has said, "Happiness comes from WHAT we do. Fulfillment comes from WHY we do it.”
When we introspect on WHY we do what we do, it brings much-needed clarity to our personal definition of success.
Consider this example... Let’s say you’re an HR professional who aspires to be a Director of Human Resources for a Fortune 100 company. If your WHY is simply because that’s considered the top of the HR food chain, then you may reach that goal only to feel disappointed.
But if your WHY for seeking to achieve this position is because you want to improve workplace culture in a large environment where you can positively influence and impact tens of thousands of lives, well now you’ve got a WHY that connects to a genuine and authentic definition of success.
So, don’t take Webster’s word for on it this one. And don’t subscribe to other people’s definitions of success.
Use this simple 3 step process to craft your own personal definition of success. For only when we define what success means to us individually can we truly become successful.
If you found this article helpful and would like to fuel your success with science-backed insights, then click here to get access to a free, 10-part video course packed full of tips, tools, and science-backed insights to help you develop an achiever’s mindset.