Last week on Twitter, I initially asked followers how they defined "succes." For whatever reason, defining what success really looks like is one of those intangible questions that has been sitting in the back of my mind lately. After pondering and asking the question of what success actually looked like, I came up with another thought.
If you've a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan, you'll know that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. In the book, the characters (just like any non-Douglas Adams fan) are very confused. What does 42 mean? How could that even be the answer? The computer that delivers that answer notes that they didn't even understand the question that they were asking. In the book, the humans have the answer - 42 - but have to develop another supercomputer to find out the real question.
I heard several answers to what success was. I just realized that I had been asking myself the wrong question.
Who defines my success?
That was the real question. Was success a definition I had developed for myself or was I letting others define it for me? Are my goals for my own intrinsic satisfaction or was it more of a "look at what I can do!" mentality.
Honestly, in the past, my success has been indirectly defined by others. I see magazine articles touting successful people. I could hear talk at a meeting, event or party about the accomplishments some people have had in their lives. From there, I began to use those metrics of success to define my own goals. I needed to get ____ title on my resume or land _____ clients or have _______ blog visitors to make it all worthwhile.
This last year has taught me a lot in that regard. Success isn't something I should let others define for me. It shouldn't be a vain attempt impress someone at a networking event. I shouldn't necessarily try to accomplish what friends or relatives think I should. I shouldn't try to "win" anything. Someone will always have more of ____ than I will or be somewhat better at me at whatever I'm trying to do. That's okay. Does it mean I don't try hard in whatever I do? Absolutely not. Hard work builds character. It's just readjusting my focus to let my goals and end results be more intrinsically motivating for me.
The accomplishments heralded by others aren't something to be ignored. We can use what other people have done as a source of inspiration. What those accomplishments shouldn't be is the end goal themselves. We shouldn't try to be the next _______. We should try to be the next [insert your name here]. Like Steve Prefontaine says in the movie Prefontaine, "forget being the next Jim Ryun, I'm going to be the next Steve Prefontaine."
This quote from Donald Miller really made me take a step back and re-think the whole concept of success.
One of the most dramatic realizations we will have when we look back on our lives in that it was never a competition.
And those people I asked on Twitter about success? I didn't get the answers I expected.
— Manu Ravichandran (@manumr) April 12, 2013
@drewhawkins waking up fulfilled and healthy and sleeping soundly.
— Amber Naslund (@AmberCadabra) April 12, 2013
@drewhawkins Broad answer; happiness plus security.
— Russell Sauve (@RussellSauve) April 12, 2013
The one common denominator? Success had nothing to do with money, status or prestige. Success was about fulfillment and enjoying life. Doing something that felt like it mattered at the end of the day.
You don't have to be honest with me - but do be honest with yourself. Is your success defined by you? Or do others define it for you?