My client Lee was feeling unclear about how to achieve more success in his life. I asked him to define success. Here’s what he said:
- Having enough money to live well
- Knowing where he was going
- Having other people see him as successful
- Having fun
- Being active and getting things done
- Being a role model
- Being ethical and moral
I then asked Lee to examine this definition. Did it serve him well in his life?
He was disturbed to realize that having “other people see him as successful” was part of his definition. As an independent person, Lee hadn’t been aware that he needed recognition from others. He also came to understand that his need for recognition was hurting his self esteem because he feared that others might not see him as successful.
The danger in needing recognition from others is that they measure success based on their definition of success, not yours. Because of this, you may not get the recognition you deserve.
In addition, wanting others’ recognition can drive us to live by their values instead of our own. You might find yourself doing something you regret or wasting a great deal of precious time striving to live someone else’s picture of success. For example, you could become a workaholic instead of being a great father or you could be wealthy but not have any friends.
Lee decided to replace his need for recognition from others with recognition from himself. It will take some work to come to a place where he can truly recognize his own success, but the work will be worth it to feel more free to align with his on values.
I asked Lee if his definition of success: was a true reflection of his core values? And also, was there anything missing from his definition of success?
Lee e-mailed me this quote a few days later:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children . . . to leave the world a better place . . . to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This definition captured his core value of wanting to help others, which had been missing from his original definition. I wondered if Lee’s original definition of success had come from others’ expectations instead of from his core self.
Many of us live our lives based on definitions of success that come from somewhere else. We have been taught that success is:
- Being wealthy
- Working every minute of every day
- Having a clean house
- Being famous
But these definitions may not reflect our core selves. And the life we create may leave us disillusioned, frustrated, and disassociated.
Author and Columnist Anna Quindlen said:
“If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”
Lee looked deeper and realized that he was living more by others’ definition of success and had stopped living by part of his own definition of success: having fun. Once Lee infused more fun into his life (by listening to comedy and reading comics) he was able to become more active and get more things done.
Lee felt he’d made a big breakthrough after just three weeks of being coached and he looks forward to continuing to work toward creating a life based on his own brand of success.
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