By Gary M. Jordan, Ph.D.
I recently attended a conference for entrepreneurs and small business owners. As you would suspect, the main topic of discussion was how to be a success. It was clear to me that everyone who attended the conference did so because they want to be successful. The interesting thing to me was that while the speakers were all talking about how to be successful the term itself was left open.
I had the opportunity to speak with many of the conference attendees, and in doing so I heard a lot that gave me pause to think about success and how it is defined. The default definition, I have discovered, is the second provided by dictionary.com: the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like. Most of those I spoke with included some aspect of this definition in their view of success.
However, the more time I spent talking with each person, the less obvious this seemingly clear definition of success became. In my conversations, words like fulfillment, happiness, meaning, and purpose, began to creep in or were implied in what was said.
Recent research indicates that 80% of people hate what they do. That is an astounding statistic. I have to believe that in that 80% there are some people that are, by the definition, “successful”. Can we really call someone with money and power who is miserable a success? It is a question worth pondering.
Success is such an elusive term, I think, because it is not the same for everyone. And it is easier to pursue an easily definable, measurable, and concrete symbol rather than an abstract concept. How much money I have, how much I charge an hour, or how many clients I have are much easier to quantify than my happiness, meaning, and purpose.
However, while it is easier to measure success by such concrete symbols, doing so creates a dilemma that can derail achieving less easily measured success markers.
Happiness, meaning, fulfillment, and purpose are all idiosyncratic, i.e., what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. But if I am talking to more than two or three people about success and “how to”, it is impossible to address individualized definitions of success. It is much easier to talk about money, fame, and honors.
But by focusing on concrete measures of success, I end up focusing on the end rather than the means. It is much like Steve Martin’s advice on how to become a millionaire: “OK, first you get a million dollars.” Easy to say, hard to do!
The late Jim Rohn said that “Becoming a millionaire is not about the money, it’s about the person you have become in the process of becoming a millionaire.”
Success is much the same way. It’s not about the money, fame, position, or honors, it’s about the person you have become to attract those things into your life.
So take the time to reflect on how you define success. You don’t have to take money, fame, position, or honors off the list, just realize they are not in and of themselves, success. Take the time to explore and define who you are and what you have to bring to the marketplace in terms of skill and talent that will allow you to be successful.
Ensure that when you do achieve success, it is your definition, not someone else’s.
“If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.” Anna Quindlen
Share your thoughts on the definition of success in the comment section below.
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