What is Success? 

Sometimes, I find that a particular question or theme comes up a lot in a short space of time with a number of different coaching clients. This week that question has been: “What is success?” – or a variation on that theme like “What does success look like for you personally?

The variation in answers never ceases to surprise me. Neither does the fact that answering the ”what is success” question with real honesty often takes a fair amount of thought, deliberation and head/heart wrangling – and sometimes a lot of time. But when the answer comes, the solutions to so many issues that my clients are stuck with often appear much easier to find.

So what does success mean for you? And are you making decisions and living or working in a way that’s likely to bring you that success? Try reflecting on these questions:

  • When you think about success, what five words spring to mind?
  • What does success mean to you, in the context of your own life and work?
  • What does success feel like?
  • When you look back on your life as an elderly person nearing the end of your life, what will you need to be able to say you’ve done, achieved, experienced or felt in order to say “I’ve been successful”?
  • How have your thoughts about what success is changed since you were younger?
  • What do you know other people see as success that isn’t the same as your idea of success?
  • What did you learn about what success is at school, from your parents or from your first employer?

Now, think about the things you are doing in your own life and work at the moment. Are they taking you positively towards YOUR version of success? Or are you building a career, developing a business or making decisions about your life based on someone else’s idea of what successful would look like for you? Or what you assume others may judge you by? Or maybe based on what your younger self believed success was about, but which no longer feels quite so relevant now you have a bit more experience and different responsibilities?

What difference can it make once we have a personal answer to “what is success?”

When we are looking to achieve something that we believe we want or must have or should do, but which actually goes right against our personal success criteria, the result is often stress, confusion, frustration or resentment.

Knowing what success looks like for you allows you to spot where you’re doing (or not doing) things that are in line with that, to identify the source of the frustration or resentment or to recognise why you’ve felt so stuck with a decision or goal you’ve been trying to reach – you may well have been facing a head/heart battle between your assumed and actual beliefs about what success actually is

There’s another big benefit to answering “what is success” on your own terms too . Most of us would agree that, in black and white terms, the opposite of success is failure. And many of us fear failure – some of us may even find ourselves and our decisions largely driven by this very common fear.

Now, this is a big subject and this isn’t a blog about “how to overcome the fear of failure” (we’ll save that for another time). But if the opposite of success is failure, then knowing what success is for us allows us to define the opposite, failure, in more personal terms too. And it often is not the thing you thought it was.

Imagine the relief and the new possibilities that are opened up by realising that the thing you thought would be failure is no such thing, and you no longer have anything to fear by giving that a go?

I think this is really well summed up by someone I worked with earlier this year who approached me when he’d hit rock bottom and felt like a failure, who had to dig really deep to achieve something pretty remarkable in the face of some big fears, which he achieved and which changed his perspective on what success actually was as a result:

I now know true success isn’t a car or a job or a house, it comes from within a very deep place in your heart and I will never call myself a failure again

There are no rights and wrongs. Success means something different to everyone, and I don’t believe I or anyone else is in a position to be judge and jury on what will make you feel successful.

Striving towards your version of success is what is likely to make you feel happy and fulfilled in life and in your work, and it is my privilege to help people achieve results and changes that leave them feeling both successful and happy. Of course, if your idea of success is to feel happy and fulfilled, and you’ve not discovered what makes you feel that way yet, then some coaching may help you identify that and I’d be honoured if you’d trust me to be the coach to help you!

I’d love to hear how you define success and I’d love to know whether, in thinking about how to answer the “what is success” question, you have recognised changes that can now make that will bring you real success and not just assumed success. Let me know in the comments.

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