How to define personal success

how to define personal success

In 2013, I took a three-month sabbatical to travel across South America. Halfway through that trip, I called up HR and quit my corporate job. In the months that followed, I enjoyed my newfound freedom and a world of possibilities – but that world quickly shrunk as I started getting nervous about not having a plan and no income coming in. Instead of coming up with a plan, I responded to whatever came my way.

So when a friend asked if I could help her and her co-founder out with some consulting, I did that. When a former colleague asked if I would interview for a temporary role in the company where she had just started working, I came for the interview and took the job. When another colleague asked me to fill a temporary role, I did that too. Two years later, I had a successful consulting business with more money coming in than I had had in my full-time job.

But something had gone wrong.

Somehow I was back in what was effectively a full-time job – working Monday to Friday, long hours, reporting to a boss – without all the benefits like health insurance, paid holiday, and a pension! My business was successful from a financial perspective but it wasn’t giving me any of the things that I had left my job for.

What were those things? Well, freedom for one – freedom to travel, to manage my own time, to choose my own projects. Independence – working creatively, making my own decisions, not being obliged to attend ineffective meetings. Authenticity – being true to myself, not having to ‘perform’, and having a meaningful impact through my work. Personal development and growth – learning new things, challenging myself, expanding my comfort zone.

So I took a step back and did some soul searching.

I did a lot more travel. I signed up to a two-year coach training course (which I completed in six months). I worked with a number of different coaches myself. I created a vision board and lists of what I wanted more of in different areas of my life. I discovered what my most important values were. I examined my hard and soft skills as well as my unique personality strengths. And I started to draw up a plan for what I wanted my business to look like.

Fast-forward another two years, and I’m in a very different place! Armed with all that self-knowledge and analysis, I know what was missing before and what I want to create more of in my life. I have a long-term vision and short-term goals. I understand how my business fits in with other personal priorities – my health and wellbeing, relationships with friends and family, romance – and I have a framework for maintaining that balance.

I know exactly what I want to get out of my business and I have a plan for achieving it.

Now whether or not you’re considering quitting your job or simply interested in building up a bit of a ‘side hustle’ alongside your existing job, I really want to help you to learn from my mistakes. To get out of that reactive mode and become proactive about achieving your goals. To plan for success so that it’s actually meaningful when you achieve it. And to accelerate your progress and get onto a faster track than if you had to figure it all out by yourself.

What is ‘success’?

A definition, by definition, leads you to a dictionary and that’s as good a place as any to start. A quick Google gives me the following:

1 The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
1.1 The attainment of fame, wealth or social status
1.2 A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.

Taking the first part of this definition, ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’, it’s clear that you first need to define that ‘aim or purpose’. In the second part, you find that the aim or purpose is narrowed down to ‘the attainment of fame, wealth or social status’.

But is this really what ‘success’ means? Is it all about fame, wealth and social status? Is it about getting a promotion and having that prestigious job title, having a six-figure (or higher) salary, buying a big house and an expensive car? Or, in a more modern version of this, is it about launching your own million-dollar business and travelling the world as a thought leader and bestselling author?

In order for a goal to be meaningful, and for you to be committed to achieving that goal, there needs be some intrinsic motivation. It’s not enough to have superficial ideals imposed externally – from society, from TV, or wherever those images are coming from.

You’ll need to define what your ‘aim or purpose’ is.

If you don’t choose it intentionally for yourself, you’ll be creating a business that may take you somewhere you don’t really want to be. You’ll be letting other people decide for you. Will you get that “fame, wealth or social status”? Maybe. Probably not. And, if you do, I can only imagine that it’s unlikely that it’ll leave you feeling particularly happy or fulfilled.

So what is your aim? What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals in life?

And, when I say life, I mean LIFE.

When talking about the success of your business, you may be inclined to think of financials, sales and growth. But that’s a very limited view, and ignores the bigger picture. Why are you starting this business in the first place? How does it fit with your bigger life goals? How are you planning on balancing your personal and professional priorities?

You need to take a much broader view of ‘success’.

This is what I’ve now been doing! Of course, my definition of success – in broad terms and when it comes to my business – is not static, and it will continue to evolve as I grow and my situation changes. But that’s also the point: success isn’t something you work towards as an end goal and then, tada, you’re done!

It’s an ongoing process, a journey, a rollercoaster through the ups and downs of different areas of your life and different wants and desires that bubble up to the surface.

And that’s a whole lot more interesting than all that fame and wealth.


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