Success

Could Your Definition of Success be Too Small?

Success’s Dirty Secret

Everybody wants to know the secret to success.

We know all the famous quotes, read #allthebooks, and have our own idolized images of success in our heads.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

But the truth is there is no secret to success. Despite what the gurus will tell you, there is no magic formula.

And that’s both bad news and good news. The bad news is that success is never the result of a lucky accident. The good news is the time is always right to make a new decision about the future you want to create.

Fun fact: the word “decide” comes from the Latin word “decidare”—meaning “to cut off all other possibilities.”

When we cut off the possibilities that aren’t working for us while keeping the ones that move us in the direction of our dreams, we create the kind of future we want and that equals success.

When do you think most about what it means to be successful?

If you’re like me, then it’s probably when you’re in the same room with actual successful people. And despite what we say success is, if we’re hard pressed to define it, we end up saying things like:

  • earning lots of money

  • having lots of respect

  • being the boss

  • being happy

At least this is what I learned about success when I asked a group of rising tenth grade girls this very question last weekend. I definitely wouldn’t turn down more money or more respect or more influence, but when I’m asked about success, I often say that success isn’t about any of those things at all.

True Success

Lately I’ve been wondering if the reason my definition of success has changed is because the trajectory of my life looks different than I imagined it. Have I adjusted my definition of success to fit my life or is my life a reflection of the hard (but very good) choices I’ve had to make to ensure my life doesn’t take a wonky turn for the worse?

The thing is most of us say we want to be successful, but without a clearly defined definition about what that actually means we don’t make a plan for ensuring that what we want will come to pass. The world is big and often scary.

This is not an EXCUSE.
It’s an INVITATION.

There’s clearly potential for every single one of us to make a difference. Using our unique gifts to make the world better today than it was yesterday is how we leave a legacy. It’s the measuring stick for determining whether or not we have lived a successful life. And sure, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by “the world,” but my world isn’t all that big, and I can definitely do something around here. After all, I would love to foster a strong marriage, raise healthy kids, and contribute to a thriving community. All of those things are real and possible!

How to be Successful

1) Make sure your goals reinforce your values. Prioritize the process. Discipline and success go hand-in-hand.

2) Remember that time and people are your most important resources. Steward them well.

3) Successful results come from successful processes. Don’t confuse good luck with true success. They are not the same, and if you are successful, it will not be an accident.

4) Failure is a gift. Successful people learn from their mistakes. My daughter has a sign hanging in her room that says: Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going. Thanks, Jillian Michaels. That’s good advice!

5) Success is a journey, not a destination. Change over time yields results. Although your definition of success will evolve as you mature, may you always remember that the quality and direction of your life will be determined through the choices that you make.

And finally, I feel like I have to say that as women there are a number of things that make us feel successful in our many different roles (wink, wink).

What makes you feel successful as a mom?
A wife?
A daughter?
A sister?
A volunteer?
A board member?
A CEO?

I bet that you have a different definition of success for each one of these roles. And sometimes those definitions are in conflict with one another, which means it can be really easy to feel like you’re failing in more than one area. Who hasn’t dropped the ball at least once? (I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to pick up my own kids from school!)

I used to subscribe to the theory that we didn’t need to itemize our various positions, that we could simply lump what it means to be a success or a failure within the context of the most important facet of our identity:

“What makes me feel like I’m successful as a WOMAN?”

Things like adequate time with my children and a thriving relationship with my spouse and time to learn and grow made me realize that I was actually defining success in terms of what I was already achieving, not what was actually possible.

This is important because our lives are not stagnant. If we’re not growing, we’re dying. I’d hate to think that I have already reached the pinnacle of my capability.

A New Way to Approach Success

The Magic of “WHAT IF?”

“What if” is an extremely powerful phrase. We often start sentences with these two words when we’re grieving time gone by, but we use the same phrase at the beginning of sentences that enable us to dream about the future.

Today, think about your own “What If” moments.

What if you felt valued and appreciated and free to pursue your dreams?
What if you were free from the expectations that come from both work and motherhood?
What if you could connect emotionally with the work you were made to do?

Successful people are obsessed with creating value.

What if you could embrace your calling without the well-intended comments of others that the thing that makes you come alive isn’t worthy of your love, energy, or attention?
What if we didn’t care what they think? I mean, who cares if they can’t see how the things you love could lead to success?
What if we didn’t allow the limitations other people try to put on us to stifle our own potential for expression, connection, meaning, and joy?

Examine your assumptions about what is and is not a worthy pursuit in your life. Decide what kind of life you want to have and how you want to live it. That’s the only way to have a life that’s not dependent on circumstances, so when you lose the job, somebody you love gets sick, the kid goes to college, and the house forecloses, you can still feel successful.

Because let’s face it: the things you love most almost never have monetary value. That tenth grade definition of success—the one that was about money, and influence, and respect, and being the boss—when you decide to be the boss of your life, the influence and respect will follow. As for the money, I can’t promise that, but I do know that when you have the love and support of your family and friends, you find that you can feel happy and successful with less of it.

Here’s to your success!

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