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The Importance of Defining Your Own Success

Why the dictionary is wrong and winning the lottery isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

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Photo credit - Benjamin Davies - Unsplash
Photo credit - Benjamin Davies - Unsplash

What is success? Most of us wander through life striving to be successful. But have you ever stopped to think about what that really means?

While 2020 brought about a lot of pain, sorrow, and grief, it also forced many of us look in the mirror and truly reflect on what matters most – something that I feel is crucial in order to be truly successful. And while there is no wrong answer to the question “what matters most to you,” without taking a holistic view of your life and defining those truly important aspects for yourself, it is nearly impossible to feel fulfilled no matter how much perceived success you may attain.

All too often, we get caught up in our own lives, convincing ourselves that we need that pay raise, new title, or promotion to be perceived as successful. We put on blinders and work our tail off to meet others’ expectations and achieve these specific goals. Meanwhile, life around us continues. And by the time that we take a moment to pause and reflect, we realize that the path that we’ve been on all this time, may not have been the right path after all. 

So, let’s take a minute and try to define this ever-illusive concept of success. I would imagine that most people lean towards Merriam-Webster’s definition. After all, what better source for a definition than a dictionary? According to Merriam-Webster, success is:

  • a “degree or measure of succeeding” (not very helpful)
  • a “favorable or desired outcome” (a bit better?)
  • “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence” (at least this gives some clarity!)

Admittedly, the first two leave a bit to be desired, but the third definition really tries to provide a definitive answer. The only problem is, the definition is wrong.

If this third definition of success were true, I imagine that lottery winners, social media influencers, and celebrities would all consider themselves to be successful as they all achieved wealth, favor, or eminence, respectively.  And yet, there are countless stories of lottery winners going bankrupt as they burn through cash in the pursuit of happiness. Some reports estimate that up to 70% of lottery winners are bankrupt within 5 years! If you don’t believe me, I invite you to read some of the tragic stories of past lottery winners here. Additionally, you can find endless examples of social media influencers and celebrities struggling with depression and searching for purpose. Unfortunately, these stories are in the media all too often.

So, what’s the common factor among all of these examples? They may have achieved the dictionary definition of success, but they weren’t happy. Shouldn’t happiness at least be a part of the success equation? After all, if success does not bring happiness, then what’s the point? If we are not happy, we cannot consider ourselves to be successful. With this notion, it seems that happiness has to be included in the definition. Therefore, the dictionary is wrong.

So, it appears that we have returned full circle to the million-dollar question: What on Earth does it actually mean to be successful?

Unfortunately, my answer will likely be massively disappointing. . . but I can’t define success for you. Because it’s entirely personal. Fundamentally, success should be an internal metric.

But what I can do is challenge you to redefine success for yourself by reflecting on what matters to you in life, prioritizing and aligning your life goals accordingly, and setting your own metrics for success. My upcoming book will dive deeper into this topic by sharing the stories of individuals who dared to take on such a challenge. Often times, these individuals would exchange the dictionary definition of success, or what others perceived to be success, for something more important – happiness. Whether that meant modifying goals and aspects of their lives related to their career, family, finances, health, personal interests, community, relationships, or some combination of these factors, this book will share tactics of how others redefined success and took tangible steps to better align their personal and career goals to achieve these new priorities in life.

So yes, if wealth, favor, or eminence are all that matter to you, then Merriam-Webster hit the nail on the head! But if not, I dare you to redefine success for yourself to better align with what truly matters to you.

The only question left is, are you up for the challenge?  

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