How do we define our successes?

As I sit writing this in my new flat, I can’t help but question whether I feel successful. Indeed, a colleague of mine is fascinated by the question of defining and measuring success, which inspired me to think about what I consider to be my own personal successes.

What do I understand by success?

pen writing notes studying
From an early age, I measured my success against others. The best thing was learning success is NOT relative.

I think from a young age, my personal success was relative. Did a best friend get a B in an exam and I got an A? Was that how I measured my own success? Maybe.

But as I have grown older, successes are purely personal and not a relative phenomenon. Equally, how I view success, and what I understand by my success, has vastly changed and continues to change over time. I therefore view success as a fluid notion and not static.

At school, success for me was 100% about getting top grades, the same at University. I also felt as though I needed to be popular, a certain shape, have a boyfriend etc etc. Money was also a core feature of my idea of success when I was at school, although this became much less important at uni as I sought to have an impact on the world.

Yet now, as I am a year into my professional career, my understanding of success has changed again. Now I understand it as:

  • having a job that interests me, that I am good at, and in which I am having a positive impact;
  • smashing the gym and my diet to get the results I want;
  • being happy and finding my own sources of happiness; and
  • being self-sufficient/independent.

So my definition of success from school to now has changed from how others view me, to how I view myself. No comparison to others and no approval needed from anyone else.

The role of money in success

stack white business market
Money is too often viewed as a core marker of success. Changing this view is paramount in truly understanding success.

Of course, money has a part to play as being financially independent is, for me, a core part of self-sufficiency and independence.

In fact, I wrote a two year goal list in April which stated four goals I wanted to achieve over the next two years, they were:

  • help the growth of my employer’s company;
  • get promoted;
  • afford to rent own place; and
  • afford to buy new place.

And in seven months, I have ticked off two: get promoted and afford to rent my own place. And so I added another goal, get an MBA qualification in order to permit me to rise into a C-level position later on in my career.

So yes, money is key in two of these goals and I do not undermine that money permits goals to happen. Yet money is not an end in itself and having achieved the ability to rent my own place, I can safely say that yes money pays my rent and bills, but better than that it is the independence and self-reliance/dependance of living alone that makes me feel successful.

In the remaining two goals (company growth and promotion), I would argue money has little to do with it. My Boss has invested so much in my career and inspired me, that I am determined to help his company grow in the same way he continues to help me grow.

And part of me helping to do this comes from my promotion. I now have even more responsibility, and therefore the opportunity, to make positive things happen. It will be knowing that I did something to aid someone else and their goals that will me a core marker of my future successes.

What else fits into my vision of success?

A million things could go here, but these three came instantly to mind meaning they must be my most important ideas of success…

Giving back to my parents/family

My parents have provided for me my entire life. My successes are equally their successes – I would not be where I am if they had not done everything they had from the moment I was born.

And so part of me feeling successful is being able to give back to them.

I don’t mean paying them back all the money they have spent on me (soz’ rents), I mean being able to do things for them. For instance, this Sunday I have invited my family over to my place for lunch. And I cannot wait to welcome them into my home and show them what they have helped me achieve.

And then my Dad is coming to see my place of work and meet by Boss. Again, I am super excited and proud to show him the City, the buildings I visit for work, and what my London life is like. It’s showing him how he, and my Mum, have helped me get to where I am and that I could not have done it without them.

Knowing knockbacks are just a step to future successes

curve industry photography vintage
In photography, negatives are the first step to creating beautiful photos. The same applies to life.

Part of growing up is not only realising, but also believing, that without incurring negatives, future successes are limited. Mistakes are there to be made in order to learn and grow from them.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent and avoid making mistakes. It means that when a mistake or a knockback hits you in the face, you have two options: 1) let it make you believe you are crap at life and can’t possibly do better; or 2) spin it into a positive and use it to create a future success.

Finding my own ways to be happy (self-fulfiness)

Lastly, for me success is the ability to solely rely upon myself for happiness which I previously touched upon but it is important point to reiterate. This is a lesson my Dad taught me a few years back after I had had my heart broken. And I think it is probably the most important lesson I have thus far learnt.

It required commitment and a couple of years to teach myself the lesson. Yet now I have achieved it, and continue to ensure I maintain it, is not only a great source of empowerment but also gives me a sense of success.

The future

close up of water
My crystal ball of the future…

Of course, if history is anything to go by these ideas I have of success will change in the future. Whilst the above three criteria of success  I would hope will always remain central, I have no doubt that I will have both material and non-material new criterion of success in the future.

But I hope that I will remember what I have learnt: that the material element is not what truly defines success.

Why? Because as I have grown up I have realised that independence and happiness, both non-material, have brought me more joy than any material possession. They have brought me a sense of inner empowerment, and that feeling my friends, is irreplaceable.

Z x