Success. It’s what we all seek, isn’t it? It’s the ultimate goal.
The proof that all of the time, money, and energy we’ve invested was a good investment.
We often use it as a measure of comparison.
“She’s more successful than he is.”
“Look how successful her business is.”
“I wish I was having the same success she’s having.”
It’s what nearly every self-help expert, coach, and business mentor is selling.
But what is success really?
So often marketing tells us success is measured in financial terms and how much we have. Lots of clients. A big email list. A six- or seven-figure business. A lifestyle that enables us to live in a beautiful house, drive a nice car, take fancy vacations… live the “good” life.
That may be how marketers and some people define success, but after surveying more than 500 people, I’ve discovered it’s not how most of us define it, at least not anymore.
When I asked people to rate a variety of factors in terms of the role each plays in their definition of success, for both five years ago and today, some interesting trends emerged.
The two biggest increases were seen in Your contribution to society and the world and Your level of happiness. There was at least a 10-point gain for each, indicating that today people consider these to be much greater indicators of success than they did five years ago. They also rated the following higher today than five years ago: Friendships, How much you enjoy what you do for a living, and How much money you have in the bank.
In the past five years, Friendships and Family both moved ahead of How much money you make per year as indicators of success.
At the bottom of the list, each decreasing over the past five years were: Level of education, Grades, The size of house you live in, Your job title or position, and The kind of car you drive.
Our priorities and the way we measure success have definitely shifted. Yes, having money in the bank is still considered a measure of success. That’s not surprising considering the impact of The Great Recession on so many people. We want to feel secure and having a nest egg contributes to that security.
Interestingly, Freedom to do what you want, when you want was at the top of the list, both five years ago and today.
Perhaps our definition of success has shifted because many of us spent years working hard to accomplish success in the traditional terms and still found something was missing. We had acquired all the trappings of success, but in many ways that’s exactly what it felt like, a trap. A giant mortgage. A second mortgage. An expensive car lease. A job or business that was burning us out. We did not have that freedom we value so dearly.
I have realized that the traditional success status symbols no longer define success for me either.
The money, the material possessions… yes, they made me look successful, but they never made me feel successful. There was always a higher level of success to be achieved. There was always someone else who was more successful. It was a game I couldn’t win no matter how hard I tried.
So I chose to redefine success.
I believe success is best measured by how you feel about what you’ve accomplished. It’s not about accomplishing someone else’s goals. It’s about identifying what’s important to you and working toward that.
It’s feeling good about the effort you’ve put forth more than it’s about the final outcome. Too often we can’t control the outcome. Wrapping up success in something that is out of your control only leads to frustration.
The happiness gleaned from tangible things like money, houses, or even a successful marketing promotion is fleeting. The happiness that results from celebrating a job done to the best of your ability, sticks. And, it defies comparison because it’s personal.
Research actually shows that happiness precedes success, and not the other way around.
That means we can choose to be happy right where we are, and that act alone will make us more successful.
I encourage you to consider how you define success. Contemplate what makes you feel good. What really makes you happy? Set personal goals based on what’s important to you. Then put your full effort into them and see just how good that actually feels. Every day look for the little successes, as well as the big ones, and take the time to celebrate them all!