I was asked this question recently and I had to think long and hard to really understand what I genuinely see as success. On first reaction to a question like that people might think of tangible things, like that promotion they recently received. Or forms of material achievement and wealth that we all chase. These are potential physical outputs of success but not what actually defines success itself. In my view it comes down to understanding what drives you as a person and what underlying values you have that give you purpose. What matters most to you?
I had a conversation with a few friends recently who have all interestingly deviated from their original career paths and are doing a myriad of different things – all of which I would describe as quite entrepreneurial pursuits. One friend has started a fun business manufacturing gourmet cookie dough for eating raw in front of the television. A few others are playing the property development game. Another is working on a fintech startup. It’s fascinating to understand what drives people to pursue something and the differing views on what success looks like. One of my best friends articulated very clearly what success means for them, and it gave me surprising clarity in my mind on what it means for me.
“I wouldn’t want to work for someone else my whole life, dedicating my energy to someone else’s cause. Regardless of how senior or revered I become or how great of an organisation it might be, that isn’t what I would personally see as success. I want to define and create my own path, and whatever output comes from that is what I can be truly proud of, look back on and say I have lived a full life working towards that.”
I always considered my view on success would be so different to these particular friends because I don’t consider myself entrepreneurially inclined. I don’t feel a compelling need or desire to create something of my own. However the last part of that conversation really rang true for me – the ability to define and create my own path. That, I think is the common denominator you observe in business leaders, entrepreneurs, corporate professionals, leading industry commentators and so forth. They have all consciously taken control and set their own career and life agenda. Then they have gone about doing things that facilitate achieving those agenda items they have set. Think Turia Pitt, Phil Knight, J.K Rowling. This as opposed to letting circumstances, or the organisation you work for, define what path you take and what the future looks like.
This brings us back to the underlying values we all have – which mind you change over time as we continue to grow and develop. The most important things to me are family, career and my contribution to positive impact on the wider community. What does success look like for me right now? Taking conscious and active control of my life to ensure everything I do is tied with a forwards-focused impact on those key areas. This means prioritising time to nurturing and taking care of my family, regularly taking active steps to building the career I want, and continuously searching for opportunities where I can have a positive impact however great or small. That is a life fulfilled and how I define success.
Ask me in a few years’ time and that might change. Ask me the same question five years ago and no doubt it will have been different. But I think the constant that we should focus on is to ensure you stop and consider what matters to you – not just in your career but in your life. Having that clarity will anchor you and help you craft that big-picture path for yourself. Those that have read my recent articles about my family will appreciate when I say I don’t take my family for granted and am so conscious that while we are all so busy being busy, my parents are ageing and starting to really need me. This has made me realise that my version of success incorporates my family’s well-being.
So take a moment and think – what matters to you?