We all know what success is, right? It’s that elusive goal that we start working towards as a child and continue to chase as an adult. In school we tried to succeed by getting good grades thinking that would get us into a good college. Once in college we tried to succeed some more by doing well, connecting with the right people, getting the right experience, and landing a great job upon graduation.
Post college, we likely started on the path of success by working hard, trying to climb the ladder at work, finding the right partner to marry, settle down, have 2.5 kids, and find the perfect house with the most adorable white picket fence ever imagined.
Sound vaguely familiar?
When you read through all of that, it sounds like a lifetime of pressure and stress to get things perfect! We chase this image of success that has been defined by society and our culture, yet most people aren’t that happy with their life or what they’re trying to chase.
For the most part, we grow up with the belief that being “successful” is all about how much money we have in the bank, the type of car we drive around town, and how big our house is that we come home to each night.
How many people do you know that are chasing this exact dream? What about you? Is this what you are pushing towards on a daily basis?
Our society rewards those that achieve this definition of success and judges those that don’t.
Even the webster dictionary defines success based on this idea: "...the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame"
It’s no wonder with all of this pressure, judgement, and years of trying, trying, trying that we feel we don’t measure up and we find ourselves feeling unfulfilled and unhappy.
Do you want to know how to get off this hamster wheel?
Let go of society’s definition of success and figure out what it means to YOU.
When you define what success means to you, it’s a whole lot easier to achieve it because you start chasing something that has meaning to you and aligns with who you are and what you believe.
The Problem with the Traditional Definition of Success
Success can mean many different things and until you get clear on your definition, you’ll never feel joy in your accomplishments because they’re for someone else…not you.
I believe there are two problems with the traditional definition of success:
Problem #1: It tries to be a One Size Fits All
“Success”, as defined by our society and culture, is based on the idea of making or having a lot of money, having nice things, taking nice trips, etc. It’s about having a happy and successful marriage where you’re head over heels in love, never argue, and grow old together without a care in the world.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t give room for reality. You can be successful without being married. You can be successful without making a lot of money.
The traditional definition doesn’t allow for the fact that everyone is different and climbing the corporate ladder for the sake of titles and money isn’t necessarily what everyone wants to do with their life (and if that is what you want to do, that's perfectly fine!).
If that life isn’t the life you crave does that mean you will never be successful?
Problem #2: It’s based on External Achievements
Defining success based on the size of your bank account, the square footage of your house, and the labels on the inside of your clothes is basing it solely on external achievements.
Sure, you may have to be very dedicated and hardworking to acquire these external things, but the markers of success are based on external rewards and validation.
When we rely on things outside of us to feel successful, worthy, etc. there’s a limited amount of validation available to us.
Instead, when we define success based on internal markers and validation, we open ourselves up to a limitless amount of rewards.
Signs You're Not Working Towards Your own version of Success
Have I intrigued you by this idea that “success” doesn’t need to have anything to do with money, titles, or possessions?
Are you wondering if you are working towards your own version of success or towards someone else’s?
Let’s do a gut check, okay?
You might be working towards someone else’s definition of success if...
- You’re trying to climb that ladder at work “successfully” but you hate it
- You always feel like success is out of your reach
- When you reach ‘success’, it doesn’t feel like you thought it would - it’s more disappointing and unfulfilling than you expected
- You feel like what you want in life doesn’t align with what your parents, partner, friends, etc think you should be doing
- You live for the weekends when you can escape your job and just be you
- You feel like a failure because you don’t have the “perfect” life
Does any of that sound familiar?
Basically, if you aren’t feeling joy on the path you’re traveling and completely believe in the work you’re doing or the life you’re living, you are very likely not working towards you’re own version of success.
How to redefine success
When you look within and define what success means to you, you start making choices that align with your definition and you start letting go of the things you are doing that don’t serve that definition.
As I mentioned already, the traditional definition of success deals with outcomes…a certain amount of money, the size of your house, how many trips you take a year, the number of children you have, how successful your marriage is, the title of your position at work, etc. “Outcomes” aren’t always in our control and they don’t take into consideration what these outcomes mean to us.
A better way to define success is by how you feel when you’re there.
What does success feel like? That’s where success starts.
The most successful person in the room may be in a entry level position, making peanuts, and driving a beat up old car, but they’re doing what they love and they feel on top of the world because everything they do is directly aligned with who they truly are, what they truly want out of life, and they’re actively taking steps to get there while learning along the way.
So, how do you redefine success…forget what it looks like on the outside and focus on what it would feel like on the inside.
Once you can put that into words, you open the door to so many possibilities of ways to go about achieving those feelings of success that have nothing to do with the outside world.
Benefits of redefining success
There are so many benefits to getting clear on your definition of success...
- You can start feeling successful now…it’s not necessarily tied to a specific event or outcome.
- Because your definition of success is unique to you, you can tweak it along the way as life ebbs and flows. Life changes - marriage, children, new jobs, moves, divorce, etc. - may very well change what you want out of life, which will impact your definition. Instead of struggling to fit your new normal into a one size fits all box, you are able to modify it and tweak it to fit wherever you are in life.
- You start living more in alignment with yourself…no longer are you chasing something that doesn’t actually work for you…you’re living exactly what you know you want and need.
If we always tie ourselves to the outcome, we forget to enjoy the journey along the way.
Also, once we reach that predefined outcome…what’s next? Success is bigger than one event…each event is just a stepping stone to the next one.
So success isn’t about the arrival at each stepping stone/event, but the journey along the path, learning along the way, refining and improving yourself along the way, and enjoying the process.
I used to be one of those that thought success was measured by my job, how much money I had, etc. But, over the last several years, I had all of that. I can take care of myself, I am fortunate to be able to travel every year, I don’t have much to worry about in my life and I’m very grateful for that. But, I didn’t feel fulfilled or like it really meant anything.
That’s when I realized I was trying to be ‘successful’ based on an idea that wasn’t my own.
For me, being successful is having close friends and family that I can share my life with, it’s being able to travel and see the world, it’s helping people (especially women) find their internal joy and happiness, it’s feeling a sense of inner peace that I’m following my heart not my head.
What it really comes down to it, for me, is living a life that’s in alignment with who I am and my core values/beliefs. If I can travel that path, I will be successful every day I’m blessed to be on this earth.