Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is Your Definition of Success Making You Miserable?

Is your definition of success a fatal mistake?

For some, success is defined in terms of the dollar amount on a paycheck. For others, it's the title on their business card. Others may define success in terms of the accolades and awards they have won.

But the problem with how people define success these days is that when they're forced to change it, they can't. Look at the businessmen who have committed suicide because they have lost fortunes. Consider the workers who are fired and then go back to work, armed with a gun.

Extreme cases, sure. Not everyone considers killing themselves or others when their livelihood is threatened. But it does point out that maybe we need to revisit our own definition of success.

Start by completing this definition: "Success to me is...."

After you complete this sentence, then review it and determine if you're on the path to achieving that success. If you were to lose your job or money tomorrow, would your definition of success still be valid? Or, would you consider yourself a failure?

I remember a job where I worked long, stressful hours and often labored for a boss who had mood swings like a freaking roller coaster. It made for a tense situation, to say the least. One day I was talking to a co-worker and the exhaustion was overwhelming. I felt so dissatisfied, frustrated and even angry. Then it hit me: If I died that day, I didn't want the only thing on my tombstone to be "Always met her deadlines."

Ugh, I remember thinking. I wanted my life to account for more than that. It wasn't until months later that I started making some real changes in my life, changes that I know made me much better able to balance my life and devote time and effort to more than my job.

Right now, times are tough and some of us are beginning to panic. But I think it's a golden opportunity to really think about what is important in your life, and weed out the things that don't really matter.

You are the one who must define what success is to you. One thing I know for sure: You are more than a job title, you are worth more than a number on a paycheck and you are more than an award to hang on your wall. Is the destination you have in mind worth the road you must travel? Only you can answer that.

So, how do you define success?

Lijit Search


David Zinger said...

I love trying to be successless in 2008. See:
More with less in 2009.

Anita said...

I love that post -- I encourage everyone to read it.
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

This discussion reminds me of an experience I had in a review once. My superior said to me something to the effect of: "You can't be successful here if you can't interact well with others."

And I instantly thought of some one who worked there who I thought was successful who couldn't interact with others. My second thought was "who ever said I wanted to be successful here?" My third thought was "what does he mean by success?"

I kept my mouth shut, though. I knew his type of success---promotion to management---was not the type of success I wanted.

Anita said...

You make a good point in that sometimes we first have to define what we DON'T want, before we can find what it is we DO want. In your case, I think you were fortunate to understand that you can never define another person's success, and that you didn't try to be someone you weren't.
Thanks for sharing that story.

allanmcdougall said...

Thanks for that one, David.

Success to me is a home, a comfortable living, several children, and enough extra income for the family to travel.

Anita said...

I think you'd find that's close to the heart of what a lot of people feel. Thanks for contributing.

David Benjamin said...

Success is never feeling like you haven't given your all. We can't always predict or even control immediate results, but we can control activity.

I think success should probably consist of several goals to measure. If I achieve x,y, and z then I will have been successful in what I set out to do. In my opinion it shouldn't just be a money thing, or a title, or even a pretty plaque to hang on the wall.

I know I am successful when I have completed my daily tasks, given 100%, and treated everyone fairly and respectfully.

A bunch of little successes consistantly will typically yield ultimate success.

Anita said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I think you bring up a good point that success is more than just having "things" -- it's also in how you treat people and the way you feel about yourself at the end of the day.

Dan Erwin said...

Anita: Success to me. . . is membership in a growing and supportive family/group of people. I spin that out very quickly, but it took me years to figure it out.

There are, of course, a lot of implications: diverse group, oriented to personal growth, the vocation and avocation, including the arts, the intellect, the physical and spiritual, and the community at large.

Anita said...

I think you're not alone in saying that it can take a while to really understand and define what success means to you -- and sometimes you have to redefine it as your life unfolds. Thanks for sharing the implications...good things for anyone to consider.

jakegreene said...

Good Post.

Here's a follow-up question: Are more people unable or unwilling to define success?

It takes a lot of ego suppression to be honest with yourself about what success looks like.


Anita said...

I see what you're saying, and I think you could take that one step further: Do you define success by what you think others want to hear? How many times have you heard of people who are miserable in their jobs, and finally determine it's because they became what a teacher or parent or boss believed they should be -- but it wasn't until they defined who they were (honestly) and what they wanted that they were able to find careers that made them happy. You bring up a very interesting line of thought. Thanks.

Marsha Keeffer said...

Success is a loving partner, a warm home, great friends and some money in the bank. And in the current economic situation, it also means knowing when to let go. The ability to cut your losses - instead of dragging excess baggage with you(like that nasty supervisor you dumped, Anita!) - is a very important skill.

Anita said...

My hope is that this "bad" economic news will lead to more "good" career choices down the road. Specifically, that because they've been faced with tough times, people understand themselves better, and what they truly need to be content and happy.
Thanks for your thoughts.