The Power of Living By Your Definition of Success
You deserve to have more fulfilling days.
What percentage of the time do you crawl into bed at the end of the day and think, “Wow, I crushed it today”?
Someone in the Groove community asked me this recently and it opened up a really interesting conversation around how we measure success.
I might answer, “I crush it 85% of the time” and another person might answer 40% of the time; but, we can’t actually compare the two because how we’re measuring “crushin’ it” might be really different.
Perhaps, it’s better to ask: What does a successful day look and feel like to you? And, how often do you have those kinds of days?
How I measure success on a day-to-day basis
I like to think about having buckets in my life that represent my priorities and daily aspirations. Some buckets are smaller and some are bigger. Each morning is a chance to fill the buckets by giving them the level of attention I need and/or want to.
At this moment, I’d say my buckets represent the following:
- social interaction (with my partner, friends, family, coworkers, strangers)*
- following personal habits/rituals (flossing, taking vitamins, journaling, minimizing screen time, keeping a clean space)
- physical health (exercise and eating foods that nourish my body)
- mental health (having a pulse on how I feel and being flexible to make adjustments in my day)
- me time (reading, learning, painting, cooking, doing a creative project)
- work (moving projects along, innovating, helping our community members feel seen and heard)
The sections in parentheses are examples of what I might do to fill up that bucket.
“Crushin’ it” might look like these buckets getting 70% filled that day. That feels achievable. Most days I hit that. But, not all days. Some days, my “social interaction bucket” is overflowing and my “me time bucket” only has a few droplets in it, for example.
That’s ok. Not all days can be 70%+ bucket-filling days. It’s not sustainable or practical. On days when I don’t hit that, I can still celebrate what I did succeed in — the buckets I honored and gave a lot of attention to that day.
To me, “crushin’ it” is laying in bed at the end of the day, smiling that I paid attention to what my mind and body needed and wanted that day. It’s feeling proud that I cared for my future self by nourishing myself today.
When you name what the buckets are that you’re filling each day, you can be more intentional in the act of crafting your days.
If you name that you value learning each day, when you’re washing the dishes, you might decide to listen to an audiobook instead of the background of a TV show or cleaning in silence. Someone else might really value the habit of monotasking, and therefore, just use that time to focus on cleaning up.
A check-in: Is your life running smoothly?
The Work, Play, Love, Health Dashboard Exercise from the book Designing Your Life is a great exercise to try if you’re interested in intentionally measuring how much attention you’re giving to these different buckets in your life on a more general scale.
In the book, the co-authors Bill and Dave introduce the concept, asking readers to imagine this is like the gauge on their car dashboard; this framework will help you know if you have enough energy and focus to continue on your life journey. Then, they ask a series of questions like:
- How might you fill in these sections from 0 to full?
- Are you happy where your gauges are right now?
- If you could make one incremental adjustment, what would it be?
After going through the exercise, my greatest learning was that if we’re intentional, making one life change can have a really profound, positive effect on multiple areas of our lives.
Deciding to volunteer as a virtual painting instructor twice a month on Tuesday nights instead of watching TV or reading was a choice I made after reading this book that helped fill my play, love, and health buckets more, without compromising work.
Similarly, creating a recurring daily habit can have a similar impact. Starting my morning in a Groove, in which I intentionally plan out my day and tackle my reoccurring morning tasks, helps me be more productive while working, ease stress, and feel connected to other humans; Grooving helps move the needle on my dashboard for work, love, and health.
Today, your dashboard might look different from tomorrow’s dashboard or next month’s dashboard. Your dashboard is constantly adjusting, which is an opportunity for you to make things better every day.
Define success based on a collection of days, not just one
Project Better Self created a great viral video about how people intentionally make choices each day. The video really illustrates the effects of a series of what some might define as “crushin’ it” type days vs. a series of days of neglecting priorities and aspirations.
You can see in the video how a collection of days can add up to help make someone feel a certain level of balance or imbalance. If one day, my dashboard gauge is running low for health because I’m not feeling 100%, it’s a rainy day out, and I order take out from my favorite restaurant and sit on the couch all day alone watching a great TV show, that’s ok.
Choosing to measure success by a collection of days gives you room for error and room to be imbalanced, which is human. It gives you permission to listen to what your mind and body need and want at that moment.
Society’s definition of success isn’t healthy, sustainable, or equitable
The COVID-19 pandemic gave people around the world a reason to challenge what’s not working in their lives. Lockdowns and work from home mandates forced billions of people to restructure their lives and many to question how they’re spending their time.
Society has created a lot of hype around the “hamster wheel lifestyle”. Hop on the hamster wheel, grind at work, and make work your main priority. To encourage this behavior, society has historically celebrated people who have dedicated their days to work; whether it’s folks who work additional hours, don’t take vacation days, will drop personal plans to jump online, are accessible on their devices 24/7, etc.
These are the folks who historically get promoted, get raises, and make higher salaries. With these types of standards, certain demographics of workers aren’t able to reach those next levels. There’s a lot of great data and thoughts that dig into this more out there that I encourage you to check out if you’re interested. My point here is: how society measures success isn’t healthy, sustainable, or equitable.
Liz Fosslien, a marketing & design consultant and professional webcomic illustrator, shared an illustration related to this on LinkedIn and it stuck with me.
Many American children learn at a young age how society measures success and the relationship between work and success, similar to what Liz outlines in this graphic, just by watching and hearing adults and the role status plays in their lives.
In America, job titles are typically how people begin conversations. “What do you do?” is probably the most common question asked, whether it’s at a networking event or on a soccer field. This behavior signals how much American culture values this piece of someone’s identity and their “status level”.
Breaking this model of placing such high value on salary and job title, and instead of taking on the alternative perspective suggested in the bottom half of the graphic, is important to normalize.
Unfortunately, too many people enter the workforce on the hamster wheel and eventually burn out or have to make a change because they recognized it wasn’t a sustainable way of measuring success and living. And, others, aren’t able to make work their main priority even if they wanted to and are put at a disadvantage in moving forward in the working world because of that.
Recognizing it’s possible to craft my own version of success
In college, I became more comfortable with defining my own version of career success, and honestly, life success, after meeting people in the local community (who were a part of a coworking space for entrepreneurs) who were valuing their time away from their work. Inside that coworking space, leaders hosted workshops for people like me, helping us lean into taking a non-traditional path, developing who we are, and building projects we care about.
In this coworking community, I saw people who had other priorities in their lives that they focused on besides work. They valued living and experiencing life. They shut their computers and put their phones down to focus on what mattered to them. They strived to better themselves and learn about their identity and who they were at their core, without letting their work define them. They embraced being lifelong learners, figuring things out along the way.
I’m lucky I had those people in my life — even ones I simply admired from afar. They helped me feel less alone in defining success on my own terms.
Begin by pausing and reflecting on what success looks like for you
For me, the first step to designing my life was becoming comfortable with my definition of success.
I challenge you to try this too. Then, take it to the next level to look at success on a smaller, more tangible scale; what does success look like for you on a daily basis? Finally, determine how that accumulation of a bunch of successful days can lead to a more fulfilling, satisfying life.
Life is a process for you to actively design for the rest of your life and iterate to make it better.