What does success really mean? I found a great quote in the August 2010 Oprah magazine which says “Success is whatever you say it is, not a goal defined by others.” I looked at this and thought Wow!
All of us in our professional lives tend to measure ourselves against whether we are promoted, get that salary increase, receive a fantastic performance review and many other “things” that society uses to tell us that we are successful. The American Heritage Dictionary defines success as “the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.” That something can be anything — such as financial rewards, the balance of family and work obligations, or the search to fulfil a personal passion.
So if all of the above is in place, why are we disenchanted with life? I believe that it is because we are in fact measuring ourselves according other peoples criteria. Even as far back as 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his book called Self-reliance about following society’s programming & not following a trail of uniqueness. According to Emerson, a person who is self-reliant should be able to live in the world & make a difference not simply be a product thereof.
Obviously if you are in corporate you are going to have to align yourself with whatever performance management system that is used within your company, and of course, there are the bills to pay, but does it really have to stop there? I so no.
So do you have an idea of what your definition of success is? You probably do, but how current is it? When last have you actually taken stock of what it is that you want to achieve & what energises you?
Ask yourself, what am I passionate about? Is your current work aligned to this? If not, does it at least provide you with the financial reward that allows you to pursue your passion? If your answer is still no, then it is maybe necessary for you to re-assess what you do for a living and develop a plan allowing you to make the necessary changes. That is of course a process on its own, yet starts with defining what you would deem to be success in your life.
If you do know your passion and your work is aligned, the question that you need to ask yourself then is why am I still not happy? Research has shown that if we do not align our personal values and our goals, we are going to constantly find ourselves in the position of discontentment. Why? Because if there isn’t an alignment, there will be a natural “rift” between what you value & what you actually achieve.
How do we change this “rift” then? You need to define or re-define both your personal & work values. It is important to note that they will differ and that they change with time. This is okay as our values will shift as we have new experiences in life.
The next step is to assess whether your personal values & work values are congruent or not and the final step is to asses whether your work values & the values of the company that you work for are compatible. Remember that when it comes to your companies values, don’t assess according to the values on the poster, but the values actually in practice.
Once we understand our values we can then look at what is truly important to you. Don’t be surprised if what you thought was your definition of success is in fact truly different to your current reality. What I have found many people do is assess their success according to criteria they set for themselves when they were young & single. Now running their own business & wanting to spend time with their kids, it is necessary to amend this definition or else there will be a rift between what you value & your definition of success.
Your definition also doesn’t need to be grandiose. Remember it is your definition and yes, you will have people questioning you, if you suddenly change how you measure yourself. That’s fine; remember that they are looking at what you are doing in terms of their values & definition of success. Be honest with yourself, be true to yourself and importantly, have fun. If you are not having fun, chances are that something isn’t aligned. Sit down & assess what could be causing the “rift”.
One last thing, be flexible, sometimes you will create your definition, only to find a few months down the line, that it isn’t really in tune what you want to do. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to change it. Also remember that your personal definition of success & professional definition of success will differ. That’s okay; just make sure that neither of them undermines your values.
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