That is a great question and I believe it is one of perspective.
I was talking yesterday to my mom about success. I can tell you that my definition of success and hers are way way way different. Let me explain:
I consider myself successful because I have been doing mostly what I wanted in life and I still continue doing what I love in life. For me that is success.
I also consider my mom successful because she overcame many challenges in her life (she’s a WWII baby who was born near the Maginot Line in France). Now, after changing continent at 20, after many years of raising my brother and I and many years working full time, she can enjoy a really comfortable retirement time here in Canada…but she doesn’t see it that way. She thinks she didn’t accomplish a thing! Weird hey?
That made me think…So when do we consider ourself successful and why some people don’t see their success but others see them as successful (or vice versa).
I realize that success is one of the most difficult word to define.
If you questioned a dozen different people and asked them, “Are you successful?” some would reply “yes”, others would say “I’m trying hard to be!” and some would hang their heads and say “no, not yet”.
The real answer should come from a follow-up question, “what does success mean to you?”
What does it mean to you?
Most of us are already programmed to measure our success by what others around us have accomplished. Careers. Nice stuff. Recognition. Status. Achievements.
This is how we have been programmed to measure success.
The sad truth is that many people who are at the top of their field, earning the big salary, and accomplished in their career, are often deeply unhappy. They have sacrificed so much to climb the corporate ladder, to make more money, to buy bigger houses and more cars, that they have lost the important things like their health and their families.
Now tell me: if success was all measured by these things, why would these seemingly successful people frequently be frustrated and fundamentally unhappy with life?
Success really does not happen until you feel like a success- and that makes success very subjective.
For example: there are women who choose to give up good careers to become full-time moms. They might be scoffed at by the more career-minded women, yet the stay-at-home-mom ends up feeling very fulfilled doing nothing but raising a child…seen by no one in the corporate world, yet shaping a little life. Ask this mother how she feels about her life. Is she wasting it? Is she missing something? Did she make the right decision? Is she a successful woman?
Ask the man who has left the corporate life he has lived. He now works for a much smaller, possibly insignificant company, earns less and yet seems happier.
I would venture to predict that almost without exception, a woman who chooses to give up a career to raise a child does not regret it and feels very successful. But quite possible the office-mates or the boss or the company think she did a foolish thing. Nor does the man regret downsizing his life.
Real Success Must Be Authentic
Success is about choices. It is personal. Your version of it may differ dramatically from someone else’s- and that’s ok.
If you choose the kind of material or career success I mentioned earlier, (the houses, cars, and so on) but your heart is left empty and unfulfilled, achieving those milestones will only leave you feeling empty.
Choosing a life path to please someone else when it’s not what is in your heart, when it’s not your dream, when it’s not your calling, will lead to frustration.
But choosing a path that is important to you, that fulfills your deepest heart-passion, that takes you to where you want to go, will bring you enormous satisfaction. You will feel like a success.
Because it’s YOU. It’s a fit. It’s the thing that brings meaning to your life.
What makes a person take a step down in their career and settle for less money to do something that brings them joy? It’s realizing that money and advancement do not always make them happy. They feel successful doing the thing that is more fulfilling. They choose what they want to do rather than what others think they should do…because that change aligns with their personal values.
You cannot feel successful when you compromise your values to do what someone else sees as important.
Real Success is a Journey
Success is a process. It’s a journey. It’s not just an end point.
This means that pursuing one thing and getting there will not be enough. Getting to that point and having no further vision will only give you temporary success. Once satisfaction has come, a new focus must move you on.
Success requires taking specific steps. Just as a life has seasons, phases, and plateaus, so achieving success will take many steps. Each step completed is a piece of the puzzle- part of the success you dream of.
That end result must be realistic. Expecting to get to the top level of your company overnight, or entering a new field of work and immediately be the top performer, is probably not realistic. You have to start at the bottom and take those growing steps one by one to arrive at the successful point you dream of.
I’ll leave you with a picture. Imagine that your life is two train tracks. The first track is who you really are: your values, your beliefs, your faith. The other track is your chosen life path. If you choose a life path that is consistent with who and what you are, the two tracks run smoothly down the valleys, up the hills, and around the bends of life’s road. But at some point if you are not authentic, the tracks will separate and eventually your traintrack to success will derail.
Be authentic. Realize it’s a process. And have integrity.
Then no matter what you do, your journey will be your definition of success.