How do you define success? How do you measure success? And how do you feel about what you have achieved in your personal and professional life to date? Not questions we ask ourselves very often and given the chance, you, just like me, will sidestep them for fear of your answers.
Let’s face it; if we are truly honest with ourselves, the majority of us are not sure what our own definition of success actually is. Instead, we tend to look to friends, family, peers, work colleagues, business leaders or influencers to help us define the parameters of success.
With this evolves a discourse that goes something like- by 20 you should have left college and found your dream job, by your 30’s you should be working your way up the ladder of career success, be in a relationship, be ready to get ‘serious’ in that relationship and about to buy your first home. By your 40’s you should have advanced up the career ladder in the same career you trained for in your 20’s and be ready to move on to the next level.
Yet, success defined on these terms, according to a global study by LinkedIn, is making almost 75% of those aged between 25 and 33 feel trapped, frustrated and uncertain, both personally and professionally. 61% of those asked would change their job or career, 44% feel stuck in a rut, 48% experience anxiety as they compare themselves to their more ‘successful’ friends and 49% feel financially insecure. What do these figures tell us? The pursuit of a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter version of success that may make us appear successful on the outside is a mask hiding the fact that inside almost ¾’s of us are slowly crumbling.
So, if chasing a version of success that is defined by someone else makes us so unhappy, why do we continue to do it?
The answer, just like the question itself, is complex, layered, and multifaceted. There is no simple answer to figuring out what success looks like and feels like for you.
Yes, you can take hints from important people in your life, and yes it is a good idea to borrow from best practices, but the path to real success is to peel back the deep layers of influence and take a deep dive inside of yourself, as success can only be defined for you, by you.
So, if you are feeling trapped in your role, unfulfilled in life, unhappy in your career or have a niggling feeling that you have more to offer, start to define your own version of success by buying yourself a notebook. Choose one that makes you smile when you look at it.
As you start to jot down words, phrases or sentences about what true success actually means to you, give yourself permission to forget about the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of the unknown or the fear of what others may or may not think. Instead, brainstorm what personal and professional success actually looks like and means for you.
As you begin to define what your own version of success looks like, continue to give yourself permission to stop:
to stop comparing yourself to others,
to stop thinking about what you ‘should’ do,
to stop your inner critic from telling you that you ‘could never to that’ and
to stop listening to well-intentioned advice that only serves to hold you back.
Look for patterns in the words and thoughts that have found their way onto your page. See if you can connect the dots between where you are and where you want to go. Acknowledge any differences between what you have now and where you want to go. Do not be disheartened if there is a huge lacuna between where you are now and where you want to go.
Give yourself permission to realise that your newly defined version of success may not happen immediately. Instead, keep your eyes and heart focused on that future. Consider the fact that you may need an exit strategy and commit to developing one. Then every single day, one small step at a time, consciously commit your actions to a future that holds the possibility of doing what you want, on your terms and in a way that makes sense to you.
Remember, only you can define success for yourself. Follow the steps outlined above and begin designing a career that you love. If you don’t, somebody else will do it for you. And you may not like their version.