Success is when you can stop focusing on cash flow and start focusing on how many people you can help.
A lot has changed over my years as an acquisition entrepreneur and author, but my definition of success is one thing that has never fluctuated.
A lot of people gravitate toward a monetary definition of success. Wealth is quantifiable. It’s easy to point to. That’s what we’ve been hearing since the Reagan era: He who dies with the most toys wins.
It’s also significant as you navigate life’s milestones. After graduating from school, the goal is a high-paying job you love. After all, there are student loans to pay. Homes, kids, schools, and healthcare are all expensive — not to mention putting money away for a comfortable retirement at the end of it all.
But monetary prosperity should come with personal and emotional benefits as well. Speaking from an entrepreneurial mindset, once you have a surplus of cash coming in, you can stop fretting about survival and really get to work. This is when you can start focusing on how much value you can provide to the most people.
Pursue Your Passions
My career choice of acquisition entrepreneurship has afforded me the autonomy to tackle goals outside of work faster — and, for me, that includes giving back to the community.
Because the businesses I buy are already established, the infrastructure, employees, customers, and profits are built-in. That has given me the freedom to follow external interests. I’ve produced almost a dozen films, and I’ve written a best-selling book. And through my new connections, I’ve had the privilege to serve on meaningful boards — including Villa di Maria, a Montessori preschool near St. Louis, which provides an amazing pre-kindergarten learning environment that I wish all humanity could access.
Gaining a vision of your biggest dreams will allow you to move toward them. When you know what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s easier for you to remove everything that is not that vision. To determine how to define your own success and what path to take to get there, ask yourself these six questions:
1. What do you want to accomplish in life?
I knew at a young age that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, author, and filmmaker. I accomplished all of those in my early 40s, and it didn’t happen by accident. Deciding on the scope of your life requires hard thought, but it’s imperative if you want to achieve your dreams. When you know what you’re chasing, you can begin to strip everything else away that distracts from your vision.
2. What underlying driver allows you to flourish?
There are many ways to find happiness, and the good news is that empirical data and research can break it down into five pillars. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, is the mastermind behind the study of positive psychology, and he outlines the five drivers behind our well-being in his book “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being”: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Understanding what is most important to your own happiness will define what success looks like for you.
3. What are you doing when you tap into a flow state?
When you’re performing work that aligns with your specific skill set, time moves quicker and you produce the best results. Tap into the flow state by understanding your strengths and taking on tasks with purpose and intention. When you’re doing the kind of work that allows you to achieve flow, everything else will start falling into place.
4. What should drive your economic engine?
An entrepreneur I know once said, “It’s really easy to get passionate about something that’s making money.” This sentiment might sound shallow, but an economically sustainable endeavor is more painless to get behind and stay behind. If the thing that’s currently driving your economic engine isn’t what you want it to be, figure out what you want to be doing and lay the groundwork for a purposeful change.
5. What are your core values?
There will be those who say this question should be first and not fifth, but we can only unlock the luxury of asking ourselves which opportunity we want to pursue when opportunities are abundant. I encourage young professionals making career decisions to take roles where they can hone their skill sets around tasks they want to learn rather than focus on values first. Then, in the middle of their career, they’ll be better equipped to take that experience to a role that aligns with their values.
6. Are you really willing to work hard?
Mastery takes time. From Michelangelo to Jim Collins to Robert Greene, there is a singular message — there is simply no substitute for putting in the time and effort. That means you need to challenge yourself. Make mistakes. Learn and improve constantly.
Too many people live out their entire lives with a definition of success that revolves around monetary gain. The results rarely work out for the better because the vast majority of people will fall short of their financial ambitions while those who achieve them will eventually realize that their barometer for success was flawed. Before you spend a career in pursuit of wealth, I encourage you to rethink your definition of success and let that be your North Star.