When it comes to the definition of success, I think there are as many definitions as there are people in the world. There is no one-size-fits-all answer because we are all different, and we all have different values and goals. So many people though have never actually sat down and outlined exactly what success looks like for them…are we even referring to the same thing?! Should we question what a successful life looks like and what makes it wrong or right to strive for more, or simply for happiness, contentment, whatever word rows your boat?
Should you life plan to, “get more out,” doing what you are doing, aiming to be doing more or should life planning simply be practicing contentment with what you have in life thus far? Every person I suspect has a different language for how they wish to lead their lives; some may never even plan to reflect on what is considered a good or bad existence, some only sadly ever work to survive. I often remind myself when I feel dissatisfied of the wonderful life I have been given simply by dint of where I was born and to whom.
Is taking the time to really think about what success means for you that important? For me it an incredibly important question should you choose to lead in business. If you don’t know what your ultimate aim is, you’ll never know when you get there – and you’ll never really know if you’re falling short, and by how much. Like a business without a clear purpose, how does an individual make the right decisions to follow a direction if there is no ultimate goal? Does the goal have to be anything more than having a happy home life, health and a good family base?
For one person, success might mean their business making a planned amount of money, (not just turnover goals but profit), and perhaps for that individual any other goal is secondary to that – they just want their business to be “successful and sustainable.” In my case I was driven to build a secure place for the wellbeing of my family and to be able to afford for my children the head start I felt I was gifted by my parents through a great education. (I do not just mean public school but for me a much broader range of challenges, work as a young person, freedom to travel, affording to be in different places to have different experiences and to perhaps see what others have that we did not, or to know how much we had to learnt to appreciate all that we enjoyed.)
For another person, success might mean that their business has served or helped a set number of people or maintaining 100% customer satisfaction. The profit of a company remains fundamental or else repeated sustainable success is impossible but there are genuinely great companies simply running with an ambition to provide great products to people whom need that assistance.
For others, success might mean being able to take a day off to spend with family whenever they like, or being able to take a fancy holiday at an exclusive resort. Some might want their business to grow to become a number one world recognised brand. Who are we to judge?
Some people see success as climbing the corporate ladder in a company, whilst others want to be the CEO, and others still will consider themselves successful in a middle management role and never want to climb any higher. Some success brings huge responsibility, not always, much depends on the role you play and the choices you make. Accountability for people, their livings, the happiness of the culture of a company weigh heavily on some and not on others. For some the weight is impossible and unattractive, for others a privildge and a responsibility well grasped and carefully handled.
For some people “success” is being able to fulfil their parents’ or peers’ requirements or view of success – in my opinion this definition of success is dangerous because it focuses on someone else’s definition rather than one’s own. I am not good with the word obligation. I think much of the past was driven by unhappy decisions by those obligated to follow arcane out of date systems and societal, expectations. I am lucky I feel to be living in an age where those things are changing and being challenged.
So many of us are caught up in wanting to be “successful” in order to prove something to someone else, to make our parents proud of us, to show someone they were wrong about us or to live up to an expectation. You might achieve success that way; you might amass a lot of money and material things, but I don’t think it can make you happy because you’re still relying on someone else’s definition. Personally I was a lot driven to show my father that a woman could be every bit as successful as a man in business, but actually and ultimately I wanted to live a life of choice which has been central to the way I behave and the decisions and challenges I take on. Choice for me is my measure of a contented life, whenever I feel out of sorts I remind myself of the enormously free life I lead, I enjoy immense comfort compared to so many others in the world and if I can remain healthy and lead a long and happy existence and have happy and healthy children that outstrips any other measure of my own achievements.
What’s your word? The single word that you strive to feel, to live, to be as an end result of effort made? Have you a planned set of targets each year to measure progress towards that goal?
In business especially, it is important to know what success will look like for you – and it’s useful I think to figure this out before you get too far down the wrong track. There’s a famous saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. It’s so easy to stumble into a job or even running a business without really thinking about whether it’s leading you in the direction you want to head in.
It’s also important to bear in mind that your definition of success may well change over time – and so it’s useful to check in every couple of years or so and check that your path is still leading you to where you want to end up. When I first started out in business, I just wanted to earn enough money to survive. As my business grew, my definition of success grew with it. Now that I have sold my business and invested in smaller companies, my definition of success for each of these is different.
I never set out to be a millionaire, and even now I don’t think that having a few zeros in my bank balance really constitutes success. For me success means that I am able to set my own hours now. I still work just as hard as I did before, (sometimes stupidly harder when I get out of sorts), – but I do it because I want to and I enjoy what I’m doing, not because I feel that I should. I also do it to set an example to my children that work is tough, variable and not always easy. I like to see things grow, I like products that people enjoy using to improve their own lives. I love products that save time and therefore give people more of the one and only commodity you cannot buy.
Success means that when one of my daughters has a sporting event, I can attend it. And that I’ve done a reasonable enough job as a parent that my daughters want me to attend these things with them!
There are different areas of our lives where our definition of success is worth thinking about: our finances; our career and our personal lives.
There are of course people who say that money means nothing to them. If this is you, I would ask you how you might cope if you had no money in the bank. Whether we like it or not, money is an important aspect of modern life. Defining what financial success looks like for you doesn’t mean you’re aiming to earn millions of pounds; it can mean that you have a figure that’s your “get by” point, and success means hitting that figure each month or year. I also suggest that given the changing world we live in money for health and wellbeing may be good money saved for a rainy day.
Again, there are people who don’t care about their career – or say they don’t. There are people who are perfectly happy plodding along in the same job for their entire working life – and that is absolutely fine. If everyone defined success as being a CEO, there would be nobody left to be employed by all these companies everyone wants to own! If success for you means working 9-5 and you feel fulfilled just by doing your job and going home at night, that is a perfectly reasonable definition. In fact, it’s arguably much more realistic and attainable than those of us who are aiming for the stars, wanting to grow a global business and serve thousands of people. Personally I never really thought of having a career, I was simply of a mindset that whatever I did, I did to the best of my abilities. Entrepreneurship came luckily to me, not me to it.
Think about what career success looks like for you: do you want to own your own company? Rise to a high level within an existing company? Work overseas? Plan it?
Again, for everyone this is different. Some people dream of getting married and having children; others want to travel the world or to spend more time with friends. Make sure that what you are aiming for is what you really want, and not what society, your parents or the media has told you that you should want. I have very regularly met individuals in a new role blissfully happy they have made a complete change of direction in their lives because they realised they had followed an educational path dictated or perhaps advised or influenced by others. Please let my children choose to do whatever it is that makes them happy, living in a great big house with all that it shuts out is not all it’s cracked up to be. I had a ball playing on the army patch with all the other kids living in exact same homes and parents doing the same thing.
Life on the whole is a balancing act; it is very rare that you will find someone who has achieved success in their finances, career and personal lives. We often find that people will sacrifice at least one in favour of the others. Of course we would all like to have success in all three areas, but I think there are often times where we accept something a little lower in one area, (perhaps only for a limited time), so as to reach higher in another. The trick is to be open and honest – with yourself as much as anyone else – as to your reasons for doing something. And to find peace in your decisions. You might find that your personal life is put on hold for a while whilst you build your career, or that your financial life suffers while you’re building a business. Over time though the aim is to even all three out so that you can at least say that you aimed for the moon and landed among the stars.