How do you measure success? Sit with this thought a moment. Two answers will likely emerge, your honest answer and your desired answer. Your honest answer is how you truly believe success is measured and defined – right now – likely molded by society and what we see others accomplishing. The other, your desired answer, is what you know to be more rational and correct based upon your morals and beliefs. If these are drastically different, that’s okay. This exercise is meant to give you a starting point to launch an honest discussion and to possibly bring these two into closer alignment.
If you’re feeling discontent or find that you’re measuring your accomplishments and self-worth against someone else’s (hello social media!), it’s well worth dedicating time to understand your thought patterns around success. The goal should never be to adhere to society’s or someone else’s definition of success, but to figure out what “living a successful life” really looks like for you – and why you feel that way.
I invite you to join me in diving deeper into this important topic! Start by considering this…
A number or a lifestyle?
So much of what we measure in life is in terms of numbers. Height and weight, age, salary, number of children, years in our relationship, number of degrees or time spent pursuing a formal education, value of our home, cars, and every other material item available. The list goes on. So what then don’t we measure in numbers? It’s less tangible and traceable for sure, but that doesn’t make it any less real or meaningful. Love, happiness, contentment, fulfillment, our impact on others, wisdom, kindness, generosity, faith.
When it comes to measuring success, remember that numbers are nothing more than a man-made tool for making sense of something’s relationship to something else. And it’s merely one metric! Our weight, for example, tells us little more than our gravitational relationship with planet earth. But so much more needs to be considered when we use this as a tool to gauge health, wellness, beauty, happiness. And I’d be quick to argue none of those actually have any connection to the number on the scale!
The point here is to be careful with how much value you place on a number when it comes to measuring success. Think bigger, dig deeper – numbers are extremely superficial and easily manipulated. If they are your only measuring tool for success, whatever you build will begin on an unstable foundation.
Busyness and success: correlation vs. causation.
From a very early age, my professional experience was formed in a cyclone of chaos – politics, specifically. Everyone was so busy! And they made sure you knew that. It was the stress that was written into every email, the terseness of conversations that had to get straight to the point (because who had time for pleasantries?), and the ways in which I saw people sacrifice sleep, family, physical and mental health to essentially emulate a robot. Now that’s a successful life! Wait, what? I am so grateful I took the entrepreneurial leap not more than 18 months after being placed on such a toxic hamster wheel. Where might I be now if I hadn’t dared to step off? I need look no further than the many living examples still around me who continued on that course. The message I write often and will continue to do so with every chance I’m given is busyness does not equal success! You can be successful and also be relaxed, present, in control of your time, and available to those you love! In fact – that is success in my opinion. Busyness, chaos, stress? None of this means you’re any more successful or important than the next person. It just means you’re not in control of your time, and that is not a favorable measure of success.
More is not always better.
From a very young age, society engrains in us that more is better. It’s consumerism that’s pumped into our brain cells from as early as we can begin processing information. And it’s what keeps pretty much every industry in business! More wealth, more clothes, more “things” that will make us beautiful, likable, worthy, interesting, entertained. Simply put, more is more. As it relates to success, we can strive for more and if we achieve that, we will have, well, more. The sad and disappointing disconnect most people find when they finally get to the top of the proverbial hill is that they achieved more, but more did not result in better. Where they thought correlation led to causation, it did not (reread my point above).
If your measure of success and having “made it” looks like a big house, fancy car, disposable income, lots of employees (or followers), and influence – you can have all of these things and be not one ounce happier, freer, more in control of your time, or any closer to a “perfect life” than you were with one-tenth your net worth and material possessions. As you examine your honest measure of success, and you keep coming up with the desire for “more,” I urge you to ask yourself one simple question again and again until you arrive at the root cause – “Why?” This brings me to…
And finally…says who?
If you carry nothing else away from this article, here’s what I want you to remember. Ask “Says who?” more often! Go ahead, be a kid again. It can be frustrating when I’m asked this by my children, but they have a point. For us adults, we need to question societal boundaries and definitions more often! (Insert whatever you believe) is a measure of success. Says who? (Insert whatever you believe) will make you happier. Says who? (Insert whatever you believe) makes you worthy or important. Says who? And really question that “who” part because that’s where you’re placing the power. I know who I want my “Who” to be today and always – in every aspect of my life. Do you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic. There’s something we can all learn from sharing our individual viewpoints on how we measure and define success! Join the conversation by commenting below.