How do you define success? Traditionally, the word ‘success’ has been associated with the trappings of financial wealth – expensive cars, designer clothes, corner offices and lavish holidays.
It’s a definition of success epitomised by the phrase accredited to Malcolm Forbes ‘he who has the most toys wins.’ In recent years, in parallel to accelerated consumerism, a growing number of people are questioning what ‘being successful’ really means.
More of us are forging our own definitions, our individual ‘North Star’ to guide us in our lives and our decision-making.
As a Business and Personal Coach, I’ve worked with many clients who have plenty of ‘toys,’ who live a ‘successful lifestyle,’ but who are far from happy. Their ‘success is hollow,’ they ‘don’t feel fulfilled’, they believe that ‘there should be more to life,’ are the phrases they utter. Of course, there is nothing wrong with seeking the good things in life.
Financial success is pleasurable, it can bring security and it increases the choices available to us, but it is not a panacea.
When it comes to success, the renowned speaker Tony Robbins distinguishes between the science of achievement and the art of fulfilment. We are schooled and conditioned in the measurable, black and white science of achievement; it’s with the oblique, intangible, shades of grey concept of fulfilment where we struggle.
The Millennial generation, who have grown up online and globally connected, have reacted to their parents’ generation by widening their definition of success to include a healthy dose of meaning and purpose.
They want their lives and careers to stand for something; they want to be of service, to make the world a better place because they’ve been in it. Whilst the bank balance might be the easiest way to measure success, more of us are recognising that it is not the sole metric and maybe not even the most important one.
The motivational factors that drive you will determine whether your success and financial wealth will enhance your sense of joy and well-being, or merely give you a temporary high.
When we are motivated by fear, more will never be enough. More qualifications, more salary, more toys, more holidays, more power will never make you feel fulfilled. More money and more stuff will never quash feelings of lack of worthiness.
If you believe that you will only feel successful when you know for sure that other people think you are successful, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of frustration and stress. You will search in vain externally for something that can only be found within.
An external, wealth-focused, fear-driven definition of success could be summarised in that phrase often used to describe the worst aspects of materialism – buying stuff you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t like. You will resent other people’s success because, in your mind, success is a zero-sum game, there is only so much to go around.
You won’t fully appreciate your achievements or lifestyle because your mindset is consumed by the fear of losing everything, or not being able to keep up with the Jones. It’s the same fear that drives people to cross ethical and even legal boundaries to satisfy their flawed definition of success and to maintain the illusion of their ‘successful’ lifestyle.
Stress, exhaustion, striving but never arriving, feeling trapped in a vicious unfulfilling cycle is the price this definition of success demands.
Does that feel like real success? Not to me.
The American author and speaker Dr. Brené Brown uses the wonderful analogy of the mapmaker and the traveller. Whilst we may choose to follow a traditional path to ‘success,’ today, with awareness and courage, we can be both the mapmaker and traveller when it comes to our own journey through life. And the beauty of it is that we have our own in-built compass to guide us – our emotions.
As humans we are emotional beings, we feel emotions all the time. It makes sense that our definition of success should focus on the emotions we want to experience on a daily basis. I refer to it as – Emotional Success. What would a new definition of success feel like? How about this –
Now that’s a definition of success that sits better with me!
In addition, behind every goal, every desired outcome (and indeed behaviour) is a request to feel more of positive emotion. By cutting to the chase and focusing on emotional success, instead of asking – what do I want, a more powerful question is – how do I want to feel? How can I experience more joy, love and fun in my life, is a question I ask myself frequently.
When speaking to audiences about success I use the analogy of a restaurant. I’m not interested in the set menu determined by someone else, I’m not even interested in the à la carte option, I want to decide what ingredients will go into my own recipe.
My ingredients will change as I grow through life but they will always be based on what nourishes my soul, fuels my passions and what ultimately fills me full (fulfilment.)
The people I know who live this modern definition of emotional success all differ from one another, but they are all uniquely themselves. Paradoxically, the one thing they do have in common is that they are not overly concerned with definitions or labels of success; they’re too busy enjoying life.
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You also be interested to read my post on how to achieve work-life balance here.