The word “success” is subjective.

Even if you wonder: “What does success mean to me?”, I can almost wager that your definition of success today, is quite different from what it was five years ago.

Because life changes. And with it, so do our expectations.

I take myself as an example.

Success to me, at least five years ago, meant driving a Mercedes-Benz. It meant wearing my Louboutin shoes. It meant being able to flash cash. It meant money. Money that I could do whatever I wanted with.

That money also came with a title: Head of XYZ Department. Sitting on the Board. It gave me such a thrill to know that I was “powerful”.

But the truth is, that version of “success”, failed to account for the relationship with my husband or my physical well-being and mental health.

I had become accustomed to “keep calm and carry on”. I felt like a duck on water – all serene and happy on the outside. Calm with everything seemingly working out just fine. That was the version of me that the world saw. And to everyone – myself included – I was “successful”.

But underneath the water my feet were paddling ten-to-the-dozen. I was over-stressed, not eating healthily, ignoring all the alarm bells going off in my head. I was at complete odds with what I had come to expect from myself and what I wanted for myself.

I was immensely unhappy, unhealthy and unsure of exactly what to do about it.

Five years on and my definition of success has changed

Looking back, so much as happened, both good and bad. But the most important thing is this – I know what real success for me is now. And it has nothing to do with money or title.

Sure, having cash to flash is always a good thing BUT (and this is a very big but), if you are sacrificing all the fundamental things like happiness and health for it, the “price-tag” is not worth it.

And to me, there is no amount of money that is worth my sanity. Or my health. Not anymore anyway.

For me, five years on (and a lot of work on myself), success is –

  • Loving what I do.
  • Living a life that is very-well balanced – I go to the gym; I treat myself to massages and mani and pedi’s and I get to spend quality time with my family without the guilt of “not quite finishing my to-do list”. Don’t get me wrong – finishing what you commit to is important. But knowing when enough is enough for that day is even more so (something I have only recently learnt).
  • Living my life, the way I want to. Forgetting about the expectations that my so-called high-powered position dictated.
  • Going to bed at night not dreading tomorrow. Not worrying about next week. Because I get to say no to the things I don’t want to do and a resounding YES to all the things that I do.
  • Choice and options.
  • Simply being truly, deep-down in your gut, happy.
  • Laughing aloud as often as I can without a care in the world.

Success through the eyes of others

Curious, I asked my husband what he believes success means. His answer, whilst always insightful, was a little surprising. Because it mirrored my own (I guess that’s why we are married).

His measure of success is broken down into easy-to-understand words (which will often change over time). He chose one word to measure his success. Now. That one word is HAPPINESS. “If I fall asleep every night and my stomach hurts from laughing, then I know it was a successful day”. The parameters that went into that day don’t matter. The only measurement that matters is laughter. Is happiness. That is his success.

It won’t be the same for everyone. That’s for sure.

  • Maybe success to you is the big house, the fancy car, the holiday in France, and your picture in the socials.
  • Maybe it means being able to spend half the day with your kids.
  • Maybe it means being able to take a run in the morning.
  • Maybe it means going fishing with your dad in the afternoon.

Because success is (again) subjective. Whatever that measure of “I have made it” (at least at that particular point in your life) means to you, will influence your definition of what being successful means.

What the “experts” say about success

When we think of success and becoming “whatever we want to become”, some of us will think of the late Zig Ziglar. Author of Born to Win: Find Your Success Code, Zig Ziglar championed and preached leading a balanced life, staying motivated and ultimately finding success.

Ziglar argues in Born to Win, that success is not defined by any one thing. It is motivated by and comprised of many different things.

Mirroring my own belief – success is subjective.

And in saying that, we can all agree that “success” (despite having a formal definition) is not a one-size-fits-all thing. It will always depend on the individual and the goals and achievements that individual wants for themselves.

Likewise, motivational speaker, Tony Robbins defines success as “doing what you want, when you want, where you want, with whom you want as much as you want. That’s a powerful purpose.”

And Bill Gates cautions that “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”.

As you can see, “success” is kind of a mixed bag! But, in summary, defining success is up to you and it can be achieved by leading a balanced life, doing what you want, when you want and as often as you want. But with caution. Because everyone can make mistakes. Everyone can fail.

How do you get to a “place of success”?

Whilst there are many different definitions and understandings of what success is (and what it is not), during my research, I discovered the following five key steps which I believe are crucial in measuring or finding success –

Stay true to your core beliefs – Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls, said in an article titled What Is Success? (Great Answers from 35 Successful People): “Loyalty is one of my core values—loyalty to self and to others whom I respect. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, relationships matter. Quality encounters matter. Honesty matters. Consistency matters. Authenticity and integrity matter. The experience and the journey matter. Focus on what matters to you and get rid of things that don’t. Taking the clutter out of your mind and your life frees up space for more of what you value”.

Do the work – a personal favourite of mine, Eddie Izzard, an English comedian, actor and activist in an article titled Comedian Eddie Izzard’s five top tips for success, listed the Schwarzenegger school of image evolution as a mode to achieve success. On this particular subject, he said the following: “Maybe some people have trouble thinking of me as a politician, which is why I have been focusing on more dramatic work in terms of my acting. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger: At first, he was a body builder who wanted to be an actor and people weren’t so sure about that, and then he started doing action movies and he did Twins and he started to get better. When he said he wanted to be governor people weren’t so sure, but then he ended up being a pretty good businessman, which made it easier for the public to see him as a politician. He’s not my politics, but he’s a great example of how you can lay the groundwork for the direction you want to go in”.

Learn from mistakes so you don’t repeat them – Bill Gates in an article titled 17 Success Lessons from Bill Gates set out that to achieve success you should not whine about failures, but learn from them instead: “What is the point in blaming other people for your mistakes? Who are you trying to fool? Your mistakes are on you, they are not anyone else’s fault, so stop blaming other people just to try and rid your conscience of guilt. Mistakes are made to be learned from. You now know what or what not to do in the same situation when it rolls around for a second time and believe me, in most cases it will roll around again”.

Prioritise self-care – Oprah Winfreystated in a commencement address at Smith College in 2017 that in order to achieve success and “find fulfilment” one needs to prioritise self-care: “If you put yourself last and burn out, you won’t have anything left for others, let alone the goals you’re striving to achieve”.

Success is about the journey, not the destination – David Gasparyan founder and President of Phonexa believes it is a more long term thing: “Obviously, we can define success in many ways: by having the love and support of your family, by setting trends in your industry, by building a great company. And I do believe it is important to set goals for your work and personal life and reaching those goals can be viewed as a success. But I believe that ultimately success is more about the journey than the destination. If I am able to wake up every day and put the maximum amount of energy and effort into goals that I believe in, that is success.”

What success comes down to really

Success comes down to defining what it means to you. Simple as that. Because “success” (any measure of it) is entirely dependent on you.

  • Stay true to your core beliefs.
  • Do the work to understand what makes you tick.
  • Learn from mistakes (because who wants to repeat them?).
  • Prioritise self-care.
  • Understand that it is a journey.

For me, despite failures and misgivings. Despite difficulties. Despite everything to the contrary, this quote by author Ralph Waldo Emerson sums up what success means to me:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a little bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Getting to success

  • Perhaps you follow my husband and choose one word that encapsulates what success – as an overall “thing” – means to you.
  • Perhaps it is about drawing up a road map to get you to a place of achieving a goal.
  • Perhaps it is understanding what your priorities are and then staying true to them (because otherwise what is the point?).
  • Perhaps it involves simply putting yourself first and asking yourself – what do you want?
  • Perhaps it is realising that this is a long-term objective, measuring success objectively as you go through life.

There are so many ways to achieve a version of success that fits you – right now – and there is no one way to get there either.

So, grab a cuppa and a notepad (a pen or pencil too) and jot down the things that matter to you the most, starting with your core values. Work through the things that you have in your life and the things that you want in your life. Imagine the life you want to be living. And then draw a road map on how to get there – realistically.

If you need help with this, contact Braving Boundaries and set up a call with Frieda Levycky who can take you through some practical and actionable steps to get you on a road where you can identify your goals and ultimately achieve success – as defined by you.

At this point, there may be one nagging thing that is bobbing around inside your head: “What about my failures? Where do they fit in?”. We have all failed at something (trust me). But failure doesn’t define you. In our next article we will tackle this small, yet seemingly menacing word – failure.

We look forward to going through this with you!

About the writer, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.

Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism. 

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.

Email: alicia@thebelletrist.com