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Why Your Definition of Success Needs to Change (and How to be Flexible With it in 3 Easy Steps)

Has society completely messed us up for what we think of as success? Of course it has! But alas, it's not too late to fix it...

First things first: being flexible is not the same as being lazy. At first read, it might sound like you’re lowering the bar so you don’t have to work quite as hard to “succeed”.

No!

Being flexible in how you define success has nothing to do with how hard you’re going to work for it.

For example: You work day in and day out for 20 years on some business project. We’re talking 12+ hour days, minimal social life, few (if any) vacations, never really having time to stop and smell the roses, and minimal experiences of joy. From all that work, you get to $1,000,000. You’ve hit financial success. 

Most people would call you successful, you’re likely calling yourself successful, and you have a million dollars to prove it. 

Is that success though? 

The dictionary says that succeeding means you’ve accomplished a goal, so technically if you accomplish whatever goal you set for yourself, then you are successful. However, let’s drop technicalities and focus on what most people think of when they think of success. If you’re “successful”, it more or less means you’ve conquered life.  And for some reason, people think that conquering life means becoming rich. So in that case, a million dollar earning equals success.

Let’s challenge that idea. Your definition of success depends on your priorities in life. If money is all you care about, then yes, you’re totally successful once you hit that million. If joy or personal connection is important to you then you might not be as successful as you previously thought.

Every person’s definition of success should be different, because it’s their own.

No one else’s definition of success should necessarily be yours because no one else is you. Your happiness in this lifetime is all that matters, and “success” should be measured in quantities of happiness. If you’re not happy, you shouldn’t call yourself successful. And what makes each person happy is specific to that person. 

If now your whole idea of success has been thrown off because now you know success is likely tied to more than just money, how can you start to redefine success for yourself? 

Step 1: Figure out what is most important to you.

What truly makes you happy? Here are some options:

  • Money
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Outdoors/nature
  • Traveling
  • Pets
  • Volunteering
  • Movies
  • Adventures

If you had one week left to live and could fill that week with one of those things (or something else), which one would it be? Think of something you love and think of the joy you feel from that thing. 

Step 2: Clarify the end goal.

Now that you’ve decided what really makes you happy in life, reconsider what success means. Does success still mean making a lot of money, or does it really mean maximizing time with your friends and family, being able to freely travel, or simply, being free to do what you want when you want? Now that you’ve likely realized money isn’t really the goal, set a new one.  What would achieving that goal look like? If you achieve it, would it be fair to call yourself successful?

Step 3: Figure out how to become “successful”.

Now it’s time to hit that goal. There’s a fairly good chance money will still have to be part of the equation. At a minimum, you do still have to be able to afford your basic human needs, and money is typically required for that. But it’s even more so required for things like traveling and playing in the woods or volunteering all day instead of working. So money may be a vehicle, but stay focused on your definition of success. Map out what this new definition of success looks like and work backwards to figure out how you can achieve it. 

Again, why are we doing this? For happiness! Or wait, is happiness an end goal by itself? Yes! 

Wait, what?

Now things are getting muddied. Or, they just got real simple. 

Is happiness the end goal for everyone? It should be! Because if you aren’t happy, are you really successful? You’ve probably succeeded with things, but are you really successful? If happiness isn’t somehow part of your success equation, you may want to rethink the whole concept. 

Why be flexible with your definition of success? So you can be happy. How can you possibly be happy if you submit to someone else’s definition of success?

It’s no secret that society has done a number on us when it comes to shaping a shared idea of “success”. And a lot of people out there still buy into the traditional perceptions of it. But really, is there anything better in this world than feeling pure happiness? If you are truly happy, can you not say you’ve achieved “success”?

Success is personal. If you allow someone else to define what success is for you, you will never truly succeed.

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