What Do You Want Success to Look Like?
Sometimes 'success' is simply surviving. Before you can achieve more success, you need to know what your success looks like.
The first idea we need to embrace when discussing what success looks like is the idea that it isn’t the same for everyone. Many people think that everyone defines success the same way they do. From many perspectives, that’s a dangerous perspective.
The fundamental concept behind this “What Do You Want?” series is that intention is everything. What someone wants to do or have happen is as important, if not moreso, than what they actually end up doing. It’s clear when people are discussing the law, but its applicable across our lives. Intention is everything.
When you assume that you know someone’s intentions by interpreting their idea of what success is to be the same as yours, you may be wrong. Intentions drive things like perception of success. If you think, for example, that someone’s idea of success is the acquisition of money but they’re really motivated by a need for revenge, the results can be disastrous.
A Condition or an Event?
This brings us to a second idea we need to confront. Is “success” an event, or is it a continuous condition? Or both?
In their legendary book, “The One-Minute Manager,” Blanchard and Johnson describe a sequence managers should follow that includes making sure the employee knows what success looks like and set them off to achieve it. This suggests that success is a finite event. We strive to make every project, every task, and every interaction a success.
On the other hand, when we look at a celebrity, a wealthy executive, or anyone who has obviously achieved acclaim in what they do, we speak of them as being a success. A successful individual. So success is a condition of being.
But it isn’t necessarily permanent or continuous!
Think of renowned celebrities like Robin Williams or Anthony Bourdain. Clearly, we always though of these people as successes. Yet each committed suicide. Without getting into the underlying circumstances that lead to these tragic events, the point remains that they no longer felt successful. They no longer wanted to continue living. Their only remaining intention was the intention to stop.
Money is Only One Way to Define Success
It’s a safe bet that many who read the title of this article immediately think of money. Money is a very popular, very widespread arbiter of success for many people. Some are obsessively driven by it, others see it as a component of being successful, some regard it as immaterial, while others take vows of poverty on their path to success.
Goal-driven people combine a target amount of money with an age limiter. I recently spoke with someone whose goal was to become a millionaire by age 40. It’s likely that everyone has financial goals they wish to achieve by a certain point in their lives.
For many, the target amount and age must be accompanied by clear intentions as to how that success will be achieved. For professional athletes, its achieving success in their performance that lead to victories for themselves and/or their teams. Later, that may shift to achieving success as a sports commentator on television or radio.
Many gauge their success by their impact on the lives of others. Many years ago students in my media classes presented me with a plaque that said, “A teacher affects eternity. They never know where their influence ends.” Few things I have received have been more meaningful to me. My father was one of those guys others say, “would give you the shirt off his back.” What he could do for those around him seemed to me to be more important than anything else to him. He died young, when I was only 15, but his example has driven much of my life’s purpose.
When you speak with teachers of success, you’ll consistently hear about their students and where they went in their careers. You’ll hear stories of young people rescued from their own mistakes. Good counsel given that was received and used well. Successful teachers measure their success by the success of their students. It’s well known that most teachers are underpaid, but they can readily be considered successes based on their interpretation of the criteria.
Great managers of people similarly measure themselves by the impact they’ve had on employees along the way. Sales managers, in particular, soon realize they would have made far more money had they remained an individual contributor, a salesperson living on commissions. Nonetheless, they consider themselves successful whenever their people achieve the goals that bring them individual wealth.
When do you want to stop learning?
That’s a trap question. When you stop learning you stop growing, and something that has stopped growing is one definition of death.
Being a “lifelong learner” is very rewarding for those who actively pursue it. When I ended 35 years as an executive to become a freelance writer one of the wonderful benefits was the endless opportunities to learn more than I ever did before. For two years I ghostwrote for a team of engineers. When interviewing them in preparation for each article I learned more about technologies than I ever did when marketing or selling them. In fact, to this day, every assignment I take on brings with it wonderful opportunities to learn new things.
My mentor was one of “those” professors when I was in college. He challenged me to think more deeply than I ever had before. Now, after 50 years together, I watch him working feverishly, at 90 years of age, preparing new papers and new lectures which he delivers all over the globe. He is my greatest example of the lifelong learner, and lifelong teacher. After 50 years together I still learn more from him each and every day. One of my definitions of success is to be continuing to bring value to my readers at age 90 and beyond just as he does.
There are certainly successful relationships in business, for example, in which each participant gets what they were looking for from the relationship. Same can be said of a relationship with an advisor, psychologist, or other medical professional. If they cure your condition, the relationship was a success.
Look back in your own history. Are there friends you haven’t spoken with for years and years? Were those relationships successful back when you were in touch? Great! Some people see relationships as being successful only if they last forever. That’s a nice thought, but for most people relationships are successful until they are not. Couples who divorce after 30 or 40 years are not necessarily unsuccessful. They enjoyed decades together. Things can always change, redefining success for each person in a relationship. The success is found in recognizing those changes early and taking positive action before the relationship sours and harms participants in it.
Better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.
The Success Bucket List
You’ll often hear reference to “not having any regrets.” At the time of their demise, people don’t want to regret anything they’ve done in their lives, or anything they wanted to do that they failed to do.”
This drives some people to think intensely about what they want to do in their lives. What do they want to experience? What goals do they want to achieve? What impact do they want to have had on others?
Consider building up your own success bucket list. Let that guide your planning for the rest of your life and take deliberate action to make each thing happen. Prevents regrets! You may find that you achieve the perception of yourself as being successful whether or not you left behind a fortune for your descendants or built great monuments to yourself.
The late, great 7 Habits author Stephen Covey said his mission in life was “To Live, to Love, to Learn, and to Leave a Legacy.”
Hard to beat that.