What does success mean to you?
I often explore this question with people who are contemplating career change.
It’s important to distinguish between what really matters to you, and what society tells us is important. But it’s not always easy to differentiate between our own definition of success, and that of others, such as family or wider society.
We’ve evolved to be social animals and status is an important motivator for many people. At times in human history, failure or a loss of status in society could be a matter of life and death. And it can feel like that sometimes. Especially if we pin too much of our identity and self-worth to the concept of success and status.
Yes, externally validated success can give you a sense of power and self worth. You may enjoy recognition and respect from others. But what if it’s far more important to feel successful in your own estimation?
One key to being able to work out what really matters to you is thinking about your values. What do you truly value? What’s important to you?
For example, I’ve worked with clients who were successful in career terms. But they were unhappy about not having enough time and energy for their family. If you feel you’re not being able to live out your values, then it may be time to re-evaluate your priorities.
When it comes to feeling a sense of power or empowerment, this can be an inside job. You can shift your mindset, and choose not to see yourself as powerless or a failure. This is true, even if your career isn’t yet where you’d like it to be. Choose to empower yourself.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt
When it comes to respect, choosing to respect yourself and others, makes you less dependent on others people’s validation. And you are more likely to see that respect echoed back to you in the way people treat you.
Financial success may be partly linked to status. It’s not just about status, of course. It’s miserable and stressful to not have enough money. And it’s vital to think clearly about your financial situation. Work out how much income you need to live a comfortable life, and to invest for the future. However if you want money in order to give you status or to feel successful, this can be a trap. How often have you seen people caught on a treadmill of having to earn even more money, to buy more things, to display more status.
So it’s helpful to take a step back and ask yourself: how much money do you actually need to be happy and feel financially secure?
This may mean increasing your income. Or it may mean cutting expenditure. The FIRE movement, for example, practices a radical reduction in spending, so that you can save enough money to give you freedom. FIRE stands for: financial independence retire early, and there are plenty of blogs online with advice on this.
None of this is intended to take away from justified pride in your achievements and celebrating success. Instead, it’s about being clear abut what you truly want to aim for in your life and work.
For me success at work is about enjoying what I do. It’s about feeling I’m learning and growing as a person. It’s knowing that my work has a positive effect on others.
And it’s also about allowing myself plenty of time to rest, to read and to dance (my personal passion). By allowing time for relaxation, I replenish my energy for work. This enables me to show up with enthusiasm and energy, and do the best job I can.
What does success mean to you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.