What is Success?
What is success to you? Have you defined it? Can it really happen overnight? Sometimes it seems like it can. When we look at others, we can make the judgment that they are super-successful, got there quickly and got all the breaks, but that’s usually not the case. Though the media can paint a picture far from reality that it can.
Part of success is defining what success means to you and then realizing when you arrive at what you’ve defined. Part of your definition of success is also dependent on a number of factors that takes a sense of self-awareness. Dolly Parton knew she was different than the thousands of other songwriters when she wrote I Will Always Love You in 1974. Elvis Presley wanted to record it, but when his manager asked her to sign over half her publishing rights, she refused. This was not easy for her—this was Elvis! She cried all night. But it was one of the smartest decisions she ever made.
Parton had enough self-awareness as an already-successful songwriter to hang on to all her intellectual rights as she felt I Will Always Love You was a hit. She was right. Whitney Houston made the song one of the biggest recordings of all time in 1992’s The Bodyguard. Dolly kept all her royalties as publisher and writer. If anyone questions Parton’s success, look at Dollywood.
In defining your meaning of what is success, we will look at several areas that will hopefully help you. First, define your self-awareness, then your personal and professional core values and finally, evaluate where you are and where you want to be.
Step One for What is Success: Self-Awareness
There are few Dolly Parton creatives in the world, though there are many who aspire to be like her. There is nothing wrong with that aspiration and actually it’s admirable. It is healthy to look at the journey of others and to not only admire but learn from them. But it is also important to have an honest heart-to-heart talk with yourself to honestly evaluate what your strengths are and what you are actually capable of accomplishing.
There are many wannabees that have made sacrifices but not achieved the success they hoped to attain, especially in the arts but also other fields of business. In 2021, 5.1 million new small business applications were filed, surpassing 2020’s record 4.4 million. Statistics tell us, according to Fortunly, only 78% of small businesses survive their first year and the greatest challenge is the lack of capital. However, the most common reason they fail is that the market has no need for their product or service.
This is really where self-awareness come into play. At some point we all need to evaluate carefully what is working and what is not. I heartedly agree with Winston Churchill’s statement of Never, never, never give up! However, this quote doesn’t mean you can’t shave off and drop what is clearly not working. It is a good exercise to consistently evaluate your personal strengths and what is and is not working in your life and your business.
Step Two for What is Success: Define Your Values
What do you really value in life? This is an important step because by defining what is truly important to you, you will be able affirm success in those value areas. Take the time to evaluate your core values, both professionally and personally. (get the Core Value free download) One of my values at this point in my life is similar to what Tim Ferris aspired to in the Four Hour Work Week. He desired a more mobile lifestyle and freedom of time and space in his life. He worked eighty-hour workweeks to get there so it wasn’t easy. I don’t really add up my weekly hours with a home office, but that flexibility is part of my focus at this point of my life. To work remotely and automate many parts of my business frees me up creatively to work most anywhere and travel with my husband.
Your professional values will influence your personal values and vice versa. They are connected in so many ways. There are those who are hard-driving type-A personalities and they make different choices than those who are happy showing up every day and putting their time in. I categorize myself as a type-A personality, especially in work ethic, but am not so hard-driving as to not keep my family in focus as one of my top core values. However, I do not overly criticize others who don’t because many of them have enriched our lives with innovation and creativity.
The important takeaway is to define your own values so when you do define the extent of your success, you will feel successful when achieving those values, not totally dependent on financial gain or fame for success. Collis Potter Huntington (1821-1900) helped lead and develop major interstate railway lines. Even though he helped link a big part of the eastern U.S. by rail, he was generous in providing bribes to politicians and congressmen. This made him one of the most hated railroad men in the country, but he wasn’t aiming to be liked. He was aiming for influence and power. That was his definition of success.
Step Three for What is Success: Define Your Goals
After thinking through your core values, it’s easier in many ways to evaluate true success with goals that are measurable. Huntington wasn’t aiming for a balanced life. His personal and professional goals were connected, even though they weren’t always admirable on the personal level. Get your FREE Goal Setting Worksheets here!
It is a good exercise to evaluate small goals and affirm each success, no matter how small. (See Tiny Habits) For your goals, take time to define success according to your personal resources, then your professional resources. You can separate this in evaluating your time, stability, leisure, finances and even significance. You can define as many areas to evaluate as you wish but keep them simple and easy to rate. Each of those areas should have some sort of measurable goal. Such as the ability to take off at least a half or full day a week for a project or event.
For leisure, success could be to schedule trips on your bucket-list, even if you aren’t close to bucket-list age! Leisure is also closely linked with freedom of time and space. Finances are fairly self-explanatory, but how much is really enough? It’s a good exercise to name a monetary number of what you need monthly, especially as an entrepreneur. Increased success could mean the ability to give more and that can easy be measured. A good article about having enough is here: When is Enough Enough?
Many who are at mid-career or the halftime of life start thinking more about significance. What will you leave behind and how can you really make a difference? (See Making a Difference) You don’t have to start working with a non-profit to make a difference. You can make a difference in a friend or colleague’s life with a note of encouragement. Take time to write your ideas down. It will affirm your success.
What Success Really Takes
Success takes action. It also takes perseverance. Berry Gordy, Motown Records founder and owner, wasn’t impressed at first with Stevie Wonder. At eleven years old, Stevie was blind yet could play many instruments well. Gordy wondered, How am I going to tell this kid I don’t like him? But then Stevie played the harmonica and that got him signed. The rest is history as Stevie is one of the world’s best-selling musicians.
Bruno Mars, singer, songwriter, record producer and dancer, was dropped by his record label at nineteen and he was an unemployed DJ who struggled to fill his car with gas. He almost gave up, but then received thirteen Grammy nominations within ten years. He didn’t quit.
It’s a great exercise to define what success means to you, otherwise you may never feel you got there. Celebrate the small successes, as small successes add up to large successes. And always remember how important relationships are. They are a gift and with valued relationships, you should feel very successful!
It is a good exercise to consistently evaluate your personal strengths and what is and is not working in your life and your business.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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