Why you're wrong about success.


How do you

Measure up?

We see plenty of people around us who seem to have it.  We strive many of our waking hours to achieve it.  We suit up for it (or so we think).  We want ...


Merriam-Webster can’t help you here. But, since I brought it up, MW defines success as a “favorable or desired outcome” also: The attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence. And this is why  MW can’t help you: a wealth of what? Favor from whom? Eminence in what way? Perhaps a little etymology lesson can help. “Success”, as a word, was popularized in the 1530’s, meaning “a result, outcome” from the Latin successus “an advance, a coming up, a good result, happy outcome”. 

Ok. A little more clear. But what’s missing here is obvious - the measuring stick. How do I measure “success”? The measuring stick is personal! And here’s a stern warning. If you don’t use your own measuring stick, you will, by default, use someone else’s. Or you’ll use an amalgamation of all the measuring sticks of those around you, society, your family, your company, etc.

Please don’t. 

This is the very omission that leads people to a life doomed to people pleasing. The failure to define their own measuring stick. Not a moral code, not a mission statement, but an outcome(s) that YOU would deem a “success”. Is it wealth, favor,  eminence, none of the above? A wealth of friends, memories, knowledge? Is it eminence in your company, community, family? 

As a financial advisor, I often ask people this question: if I paid you $20,000 a month (just out of the goodness of my heart) from today until the day you die, what would you go do with your time? The outcome of this question (and intentionally so) is often a blend of stress, fear, discomfort, and soul-searching. With this question, I basically asked, “What are you all about - really?” The purpose of which is to get people to go deeper. Don’t tell me “I want to retire at 55”. Whoop-tee-doo. Everyone else does too, but WHY? Is the point really to just relax? Travel? Play golf? C’mon. 

We HAVE TO figure this out. Not when you get around to it. Not when it comes upon you like a vision in the night. Not when someone influential shows up and tells you what your measuring stick should look like. It has to happen now. It has to happen personally. Here’s the super scary part. YOU need to sit alone with your thoughts, your memories, your beliefs, and figure out “what am I living toward”? Yes, “toward”.

The “I kinda just take it day by day” line is an excuse.

If you just react to whatever happens to you, nothing really wonderful (by YOUR definition) will ever happen to you. Decide what you really want, THEN go do it. “Just do it” is terrible advice. Do nothing at all for one afternoon. Head to quiet and private spot, bring some paper and pen (not a phone/computer!) and just start writing. Write down everything and everyone you most love. Write down every dream you’ve ever had, and every important lesson you’ve ever learned. Take inventory of who you already are. Then think about (even though it’s scary) your final 20 years of life. Who do you want to know at that point? What job do you want to have (or volunteer gig)? What causes will you be fighting for, and how? Where would be the ideal place to live? Etc. Don’t excuse yourself with thoughts of “I don’t know if that’s realistic” or “I’ll never be able to make that happen”. Just have the courage to dream for one afternoon. 

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important." - Steve Jobs

Why? Why do I need a measuring stick? Why do I need a vision for my life in a long-term fashion? Because you have no filter by which to make decisions otherwise! You get a job offer. Should you take it? Without a vision of where you’re headed, how do you make this decision? Should I buy this house? Should I marry this person? Should I go back to school? As it has been said many times before, “hope is not a strategy”. And “follow your heart” is a dangerous decision engine. We are human beings! Our emotions, while valid, are also manic, erratic, and fleeting. Our intuitions are often wrong and soon forgotten. But if we take the time to search our thoughts, feelings, emotions, intuitions all together, and we seek the wisdom of those who know us best and love us most - we’ve got a good chance at defining success for ourselves. 

You can have everything by society’s standards. You can have “wealth, favor, and eminence”, but if you haven’t decided what success is, you will never experience it.