Success is such an emotive word. It has many different definitions to each and every one of one of us as we are all unique and individual, made up of our own DNA.
But here’s a key thought for you…
Have you ever really sat down and created quality time to work on YOUR own definition of success?
And I don’t mean just paying lip service to the question and answering it in your mind. I mean stripping back the layers and getting to the root of what it means to YOU.
There is a BIG difference in letting your ideas and thoughts on defining success free flow inside your head versus committing those thoughts down in black and white.
The moment they are in writing it creates clarity of purpose. It engages your full senses and both your conscious and subconscious mind. Plus, it’s like creating a performance contract with yourself that sends a hot-wired message to the brain which says; ‘this is real, go make it happen!’
So, back to the question; ‘what does success mean to you?’
To kick start your thinking, I like to break it down into a number of component parts…
And the starting point is the word YOU!
#1 Success by your own standards
We are influenced on a daily basis by factors that can determine our definition of success so the real question is – are we living by our own definitions of success or are we living by the standards and definitions of someone else?
Who are we influenced by?
Let’s take an example and look at home ownership in the UK v’s Europe. The majority of UK citizens aspire to be house owners, it is embedded in us from a young age that owning property is deemed a marker for success, where as other countries in Europe are not programmed that way. Renting is the way to live.
Work is another factor.
I always remember running a programme and a delegate approached me during the session and said ‘Royston, if I’m hearing correctly what you are saying is if I don’t want to run my own distribution site then that’s ok? If I want to continue to be a number two then I’m ok to do that, is that what you are saying?’. My response was its not whether that is ok with me but if its ok with you? Is that your own definition of success? To which she responded yes!
Seeing her physical demeanour almost shed the weighted blocks she had been carrying around with her was quite literally awe inspiring. She had put herself under such huge amounts of pressure striving to be number 1, which actually she didn’t want to be.
We concluded our chat when I said to her – ‘Here’s the deal, if I was a finance director running a distribution site and you came to me and said “I have no aspirations to be a number 1, however I want to be a world class number 2” then I would have you work with me every day of the week.’
It’s so important to define success by your own standards.
So many of us are incredible technicians that believe, because society tells us, that we have to aspire to be a manager or a business owner or something else – now that’s the biggest myth ever.
If you are a phenomenal sales person with no interest in progressing to management then that is OK – there I have said it for you! If your definition of success is to be the best in your field and you have no desire to manage or lead people then you should not feel guilty or a failure for doing so.
Family and Friends are a third factor.
For all the parents reading this it is crucial that you let your children develop into who they are as opposed to who you want them to be or who you weren’t!
So many parents get to an age where they look at the failings of their own lives and they try to succeed through their children – quite often pushing them down a pathway the child doesn’t want to go down.
You have to let them find their own identity.
A client and close friend dropped her son off at boarding school recently and the head teacher during his welcome presentation said ‘well done parents you have done your part, now its the chance for us to let your children flourish and develop into the people we know they have the potential to become, not mini versions of yourselves.’
The overarching guiding principle in answering the question is to be conscious and deliberate when thinking about what success means to you – not society, not your parents, not the organisation you work for but to you!
Life is no dress rehearsal.
Our time on planet earth is short and therefore life is about maximising your opportunities to live the life YOU want to live and not the life of others. Yes, take insight and guidance from people you love and respect but ultimately the decisions for how you live, how you define your success is down to you.
#2 What does success mean to you personally AND professionally? Are they aligned or in tension?
Over the last decade I have asked these simple yet profound questions to tens of thousands of people from all walks of life.
And I literally mean all walks of life, from CEO’s, leaders, managers, sports people, business owners, entrepreneurs, young adults to college leavers who are just starting their journey in defining and finding their way in life.
But the one thing I have learned when tackling the question; What does success mean to you?, is that it is actually a BIG question to answer, and it is best to tackle it as 3 sub questions;
- What does success mean to you personally?
- What does success mean to you professionally?
- Are the two definitions aligned or are they in tension?
I can honestly say hand on heart I have met very few people who can a. Clearly and succinctly articulate their personal and professional definitions of success and b. Acknowledge the tensions and trade-offs between the two.
The great thing is that when you’re really clear about what success means to you personally or professionally, it allows you to design your life, being conscious of the tensions in place and the trade offs you are making.
I remember being in South Africa with a client some time ago when I first set up our consulting and people development business, Pti Worldwide, and we were out for lunch and my client turned to me and said ‘Royston I get what success means to you professionally having worked with you for 3 months, however what I don’t know is what does success mean to you personally?’
Now this totally floored me as I had no answer.
At that particular stage in my life I was so focussed on what success meant to me professionally; I was quite happy to work all hours, constantly travelling and giving 150% to the ‘day job’ even if that meant missing family gatherings. I was single, I had no real responsibilities in my personal life and therefore there were no tensions in place that I needed to be conscious off.
Clearly, my view on this today is totally different. I have a young family at home who misses me as much as I miss them. My priority today is about achieving balance in both my personal and professional life, being conscious and deliberate in the priority calls and trade-off’s I make.
At different stages of your life and the different chapters you go through, your definitions of success will change and the weighting and importance you play on the different elements will change.
You will encounter certain life defining moments – a new relationship, children, a new career which will change your focus and priorities and your definition of success.
What does success mean to you? is not a question which can be asked only once in your life and be finished, it’s a question that needs revisiting frequently to ensure a. The definitions are still relevant to you but b. The tensions are manageable and working for you not against you.
A friend of mine learnt this the hard way a couple of years ago when he came home one day and found his wife was leaving him. He had focussed so much time and attention on his professional mission for success that he had neglected his personal life.
Luckily he was able to save his marriage by taking a 3-month sabbatical and work ‘on’ his marriage – however if he had been truly conscious of the tensions in his life he would have stopped it getting to that point in the first place. He now has a strong hold on those tensions living his definition of success both personally and professionally.
#3 Success should not be built on logic, but on emotion.
When answering the questions really dig deep into the emotional elements.
You might answer ‘I just want to be happy!’. Now what do you think my question back to you would be?…
‘Ok great, so what does happiness mean?’
‘Well it means being in a meaningful relationship, it means running my department at work, it means spending the majority of my time with my children.’
Fantastic, now you are starting to really understand what is your definition of success.
I want to share a story with you I heard a long time ago – a story that is so powerful in its message, I urge you to read it 2 or 3 times.
It’s called The Mexican Boatman…
An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “Only a little while”
The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos – I have a full and busy life.”
The American scoffed, “I’m a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.
Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery.
You would control the product, processing and distribution.
You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?”
The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Purchase Offer) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
“Millions. Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife Maria, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
The key learns for me are this…
- Define YOUR definition of success not your manager, your partner, your colleague’s or your friend’s.
- Understand what you’re striving for and what’s important to YOU both personally and professionally.
- Identify and acknowledge the tensions and trade-off’s YOU’RE making. If you don’t like them or they feel out of kilt; stop and assess why. Have your priorities changed?
- Recognise your definition of success will evolve. What was important to you yesterday may not be as important to you today. Accept this and redefine your definition of success based on where you are now, not where you were then.
What does success mean to you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.