What is your definition of success?

When I went on a first date with my partner 5 years ago, we sat down and talked for hours. Amongst the chatting, I asked him “what do you want from life?” He quickly bounced the question back to me (to be fair, it was a pretty full on question for a first date). Confidently, I answered in the way my naive 18 year old self thought: “to be successful: to have a great career and make lots of money” At the time, that seemed like the obvious thing to want – I’d been working freelance since I was 15, I’d just landed my first job and that seemed like the goal everyone would want. My partner then took his turn to answer and simply said “to be happy.”

As the years have passed, his answer in that moment has become more and more poignant to me. When I was in school, “happiness” was never promoted as a goal to achieve. Success, however, was. You took the subjects you knew you would do well at, you picked topics you knew you could ace; all of this in the pursuit of good grades, praise for teachers and a better university placement. Looking back, I can’t really see how that added value to students.

Working in the industry quickly taught me that you couldn’t just do things you were good at, praise wasn’t as helpful as feedback and that a promotion was just a byproduct of being the best version of yourself. On top of that, I began to learn what my version of “success” was. At the age of 18, I saw success measured by cash, and now I see why – everything we’d learned in college pushed us to have jobs that were on the “best paid” lists, on top of that shows like The Apprentice pinned the top prize as a £100k job through a quick 12 week process.

“We all want to be successful – but success has a different definition to everyone”

We all want to be successful – but success has a different definition to everyone. If you chase the criteria for success that society promotes (well paid job, family, house, car, vacations) then you may well end up miserable, unless it aligns with your definition of success too. Your definition of success may be to have a healthy family, a loving spouse, waking up happy each day, having the freedom to work anywhere or whatever ultimately gives you happiness.

Once you know your definition of success, you can then begin to make your way to make it happen and you can eliminate anything that doesn’t fit with that vision. Chasing a monetary goal or general idea of “success” means nothing unless you know what you’re trying to obtain. Our definition of success is bound to change countlessly through our lives – it’s not static, so we should always be evaluating if we’re on the right path.

If I were on that first date again, I would say my definition of success right now is to have freedom in where I work and to travel whenever I can. That means I’ve made some changes such as:

  • Working freelance
  • Not taking work that tie me down to one place for longer than a month
  • Cutting down spending on various things (e.g clothes, home goods etc) and save that money to travel instead

By knowing my definition of success, I can turn away any opportunity that directly interferes with it. It’s given me a new found sense of clarity. Now it’s time for you to ask yourself, what’s your definition of success?

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