Redefining success so it works for you: 5 questions and 3 pitfalls

Redefining success so it works for you: 5 questions and 3 pitfalls

The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something you’re not. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path; unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that. -Ellen DeGeneres

Recently, a client shared with me she felt she wasn’t achieving enough.  She thought she should probably be “doing more” in her career.  And yet, my client had built a life balancing a successful career while maintaining plenty of time to be with her family.  When asked whether she was happy and satisfied, she said yes.  But the thought nagged at her that she needed to achieve more.

What could be happening? Is it that she isn’t successful and needs to do more? Or is it that she isn’t meeting a certain measure of success?  Or it could be her model of success is out of alignment with her current day-to-day life?

Is your current model of success working for you?

What could it mean to be intentional about defining your success?  Getting clear on what success means will help you focus and direct your day to day.  Meanwhile, if you allow others to define your success, you might feel less grounded, less happy, and less satisfied.  Not defining success at all can mean missing the opportunity to live life more on your terms.

Understand what YOU mean by success

Is there a “correct” way of defining success?  There isn’t one correct way but there is your way.  Success is dependent on each individual.  You have the power to design your own success model.  Defining success on your own terms means answering five important questions to get you started:

  1. How do you want to feel in your life? Grounded? Curious? Calm? Driven?
  1. What is really important to you? Family, children, spouse/partner, friends, religion, work, exercise.
  1. What does an ideal day look like for you? This isn’t about a perfect day but how your general schedule might unfold on any given day.
  1. What values do you hold dear? How do you want your life to reflect those values?
  1. When you think of having a meaningful life, what does that mean for you?


Once you spend some time reflecting on these questions, you can take the extra step of completing success statements:  “I know I’ll be successful when….”

There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.

American author Christopher Morley

Avoid the pitfalls! Challenge and question old paradigms of success

Part of the reason why we might find our definition of success out of sync with our lives is because we’ve fallen into some traps . As you unfold your definition of success, consider these pitfalls discussed below.

Pitfall #1:  Letting others define your success

The very first people to define our success were our parents or caregivers.  Then, others (friends/peers, teachers, coaches, church leaders) weighed in with their views of success.  Over time, many of us have crafted – intentionally or by default – a definition of success heavily driven by these key influencers.  To be sure,  these trusted key influencers were critical in our formative years and helped shape us into strong members of society.  But we do not want to adopt their lens of success wholly without doing our own inquiry.  The key step to avoiding this pitfall is to be more introspective about our own personal definition of success while considering this external advice to be a potentially useful input.

Pitfall #2:  Comparing yourself to others

It is no secret that we can fall prey to comparing ourselves to others to measure our success.  All around us are people who appear on the surface to have more than we do.  Facebook and the popular media seem to drive the point home that others are doing better than we are.   But is this really true?  Focusing outwardly on what others have can be a significant pitfall to defining and measuring your own personal success.

Ultimately, many people are seeking meaning and happiness – not wealth and status.  And your personal definition of happiness is completely guided by your intrinsic needs.  Paying attention and feeding this part of yourself can help you find the “wealth” you may be longing for.  This is why it is critically important to best understand your own needs and wants first.

Pitfall #3:  Only defining success as achievement

Since we were wee little people, we’ve been taught that meeting a goal = success.  Getting a promotion = success.  Getting a good grade = success.  This is not a terrible thing!  But it’s no wonder we define success solely or even mostly as something at the end of a process.  If that is our only definition of success, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Consider whether success is less about the destination and more about the journey.  Let’s take training for a running race. Sure, we want to achieve that goal, but what if we take some time to enjoy part of the process along the way, our milestones, and the feeling of learning more and improving?  What if we defined success as also considering the feeling of getting better, stronger, and more empowered by running longer distances?  If you approached training this way, you would feel more success along the way, not just on the day of the race.

If you follow a path to success that isn’t your own, you may achieve your goals, but when you arrive at your destination, you may not feel successful or fulfilled at all.

Ian Christie,

Defining success is itself a journey

I have personally transformed my definition of success. The old definition was heavily focused on work and the new one is now defined more by my strengths in helping people feel empowered and connection with other people. But I am routinely (several times a year) refining how my lens of success. It is a never-ending journey.

As for my client?  When she took the time to think about what success really meant for her, it was in fact the life she had already created for herself.  She began to realize that nagging thought she needed to “do more” was driven by something that was planted inside by her parents long ago.   And she was relieved to know she was already further along on her success path than she thought.

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