define success

Whose Definition of Success Are You Living?

In my last article, I talked about how to work through situations that make you feel stuck.

As you break old patterns, you will create more space to think about what you want and to define what success really looks like for you.

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Define Success for Yourself

At one time or another, we all feel pressure to fit someone else’s definition of success. Expectations can come at you from different directions and may even contradict each other. For example, your boss might view success as being responsive to what the company needs no matter what time of day or night, while your parents might define it as showing up to every one of your kids’ soccer games. Your mentor might expect you to focus on getting more exposure to key leaders, while your colleagues might expect you to be accessible to help them problem-solve. 

Yes, that's a lot! So, it's no surprise that you might be working toward a definition of success that doesn’t fit what you really want.

I personally experienced that when I decided to end my 14-year career at Deloitte. I held an executive position and had financial freedom — two common measures of success. But I felt out of sync with my true self. At the time, my son was two years old and the intensity of my work made it hard for me to show up in my life in the way that I wanted to.  I knew there had to be a different way to pursue my passion.

Whether or not you already know what's out of sync, the following two steps can help you clarify your definition of success.

First, ask yourself what really matters to you at this stage of your life — personally and professionally.  Priorities can change over time, so I urge you to think about this holistically. Be honest with yourself about what’s important: financial security, advancing your career, developing new skills, building a stronger brand, spending more time with family and friends, having kids, or simply having more of a “life” than you do now.

Second, describe what it would look like in action at work and at home. What kinds of things would you be doing that would indicate that you are focusing on what matters most to you and living the life that you want? What would be happening? Let your mind run with this and see what emerges for you.  

Take That First Step

After you clarify what success means to you, start moving toward that vision.

This can feel overwhelming, so keep in mind that you don’t have to change everything all at once. What would that first step toward your goal look like? For me, it was a one-month sabbatical to clear my head, get away from it all, and reenergize. During that time, I did a mini immersion in the type of work I thought I wanted to do next. 

As your priorities and definition of success evolve throughout your life, you’ll repeat this cycle — feeling out of sync, clarifying what you want instead, and making change. In my own life, I haven't always known what I wanted to do next, but I have always taken action to figure it out. This approach has led me down an unexpected career path where I made big changes every three or four years, quit my job cold turkey three times without looking for another job first, and then ultimately started a business three months before a recession. I know I couldn’t have imagined that career journey or what my life looks like now.

Through all of this, one of the most valuable things I learned was to define success for myself, and to consistently use it as my guide. And then, to just take one small step at a time.  

So, what will your first step be?