If you don’t take the time to define success for yourself, chances are you will end up with someone else’s definition of success… which may not lead to the life you want.
How do you define success? I have asked many of my clients to define success in terms of what matters to them. Near the top are usually the same few items: a reasonable income, time with family, and a degree of autonomy over their workday.
Yet most of my career coaching clients really don’t have a clear sense of what “the good life” looks like. In fact, I’ve only had a couple clients ever come to me with a real definition of success in hand… yet I believe that having one is critical.
Aesop Defines Success
The need to define what success looks like reminds me of the following of Aesop’s fables, in this case as written on storyit.com.
A country mouse invited his cousin who lived in the city to come visit him. The city mouse was so disappointed with the sparse meal which was nothing more than a few kernels of corn and a couple of dried berries.
“My poor cousin,” said the city mouse, “you hardly have anything to eat! I do believe that an ant could eat better! Please do come to the city and visit me, and I will show you such rich feasts, readily available for the taking.”
So the country mouse left with his city cousin who brought him to a splendid feast in the city’s alley. The country mouse could not believe his eyes. He had never seen so much food in one place. There was bread, cheese, fruit, cereals, and grains of all sorts scattered about in a warm cozy portion of the alley.
The two mice settled down to eat their wonderful dinner, but before they barely took their first bites, a cat approached their dining area. The two mice scampered away and hid in a small uncomfortable hole until the cat left. Finally, it was quiet, and the unwelcome visitor went to prowl somewhere else.
The two mice ventured out of the hole and resumed their abundant feast. Before they could get a proper taste in their mouth, another visitor intruded on their dinner, and the two little mice had to scuttle away quickly.
“Goodbye,” said the country mouse, “You do, indeed, live in a plentiful city, but I am going home where I can enjoy my dinner in peace.”
Now the moral of this story according to Aesop is: “A modest life with peace and quiet is better than a richly one with danger and strife.” However, I actually don’t agree.
I believe the moral of this story is that you need to define success for yourself.
How to Define Success in the Real World
Some people are wired for adrenaline, risk and the success that goes with it (see Career Coaching: Is this all there is?) while others are more wired for a modest life with peace and quiet.
Personally, I know people who live at both extremes. On the one side is a friend who is self-employed, lives very modestly, and only works when he more or less feels like it. On the other side is a friend who lives the high life in Manhattan.
They are both happy with the paths they have chosen.
The point is that while each of these people may tend to look down on the other, in fact the only mistake is in not taking the time to define success for yourself. If you don’t define success for yourself, you are very, very likely to end up with the American default, which is a combination of income, titles and stuff you own.
Personally, I believe you have to invest across 4 areas if you want to really be successful: your mind, your body, your relationships and your career (See Executive Coaching: Having it all). However, the amount you invest in each will vary based on your unique priorities.
-Just beware the default, which for ambitious people like us tends to mean putting everything into your career. I know I made that mistake for a long time, and I’m so glad to have defined success for myself and reaped the benefits that come from doing so…