Success… It might be one of the most divisive words of the English language. But what if you could create your own definition of success? And what if that definition was much more personal? Here’s how.
Give a look at the good old Merriam-Webster dictionary, and what do you find?
Success | suc • ces | \sək-’ses\ | noun: the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect or fame.
A team of researchers at Strayer University think our current definition of success is horse manure and are petitioning Merriam-Webster to have the definition changed.
We tend to agree with Strayer, and apparently we’re not the only ones. The team at Strayer asked a group of people about their definition of success. In response, just 21% mentioned wealth, 51% mentioned respect, and a measly 3% mentioned fame.
If Strayer gets their way, the definition will change to: “Happiness derived from good relationships, and achieving personal goals.”
This led us to a question on the Fizzle team… What do we believe about success? And, perhaps more importantly, how can we encourage you to intentionally neglect the conventional notion of success and create your own definition as an independent entrepreneur? That’s what we get into on today’s episode.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
How to create your own definition of success.
The heart of the conversation in this week’s episode (below) is this: do you want someone else to define success for you, or do you want to define your own success?
There’s not much debate to be had on this one. Whether we like it or not, we’ve been duped into adopting a universal definition of success that has more to do with the lifestyles of the rich and famous than living a fulfilling life.
And yet, despite the fact that we all know fame and money do not equal success or happiness, we have a hard time putting that belief into practice. Unfortunately, that often leads us to dark places in our personal and professional lives.
The ultimate fear is captured in the 2012 film by Adam Baker and Grant Peele, “I’m Fine, Thanks.” We’re practically punched in the gut when a woman says, “I spent years climbing the corporate ladder only to get up a ways and realize it was leaned up against the wrong wall.”
That’s one hell of a wake up call. We have to wonder: would that still have been the case if she had taken the time to define her own measure of success?
100 Years, All New People
Here’s a little secret: 100 years from now, there will be all new people on this earth. Sit with that for a minute and let yourself off the hook for whatever you think society says about success.
What do YOU want? What does success mean to YOU? And WHY do we compare ourselves to others?
For one, it’s easy. Vanity metrics abound. Countless people publish their income reports every month online. Twitter follower numbers are readily available on any profile. Alexa tells us where we stand in the popularity contest of the internet.
If there’s one thing to be learned from all of this: it is a surefire path to misery.
More than anything, the comparison game leads us down the dark alleyway of “should.” I should do this, I should do that. Steph had a little something to say about “should.”
“Anytime I hear the word should – I should be doing this – that’s how I know that I’m listening to my ego more than something like intuition or my best judgment or my value system… That’s when you can stop that track, hit pause, and ask yourself, ”Who cares? For what? Does it get me closer to the things I actually care about?" she said on the show.
Barrett knows that’s a bit easier said than done, and he had a few words of warning for you: “Here’s what will happen: People will say, “Yeah, the Fizzle crew is right, I’m going to define my own version of success and do what I think is right in the world.” You’re going to walk away from this and you’re not going to do s***… Nothing will change… Because this takes work over years and years of your life.”
It’s harsh, but it’s true. The vast majority of people who listen to this episode and read this article won’t do much to take action. Why? Because defining your own version of success and then working to make it your reality takes work.
Short term vs long term success
If you’re just waking up to the fact that you’re playing by someone else’s rules or living by someone else’s definition of success, you might realize that what you’re doing right now is not what makes you feel fulfilled and successful.
When that happens, one of the hardest things to do is to balance your (and your family’s) short-term needs with your long-term wants. There’s still the reality of needing to make a living and support your loved ones in the short term. That has to be balanced against the grand visions of success you have for the long-term.
That’s not an argument against defining your own success, it’s an argument for patience while doing it.
“The easiest path of all is to never even decide that you care about what success means.” – @StephCrowder_
The alternative, after all, is to give up. Grow complacent. Let the world pass you by. Or, as Steph put it, “The easiest thing to do is to never ask ourselves these questions… the easiest path of all is to never even decide that you care about what success means.”
If you’re going to follow through on this, you should realize that it might completely derail all of your business plans. That might mean you need to take a step back get a job or do whatever is necessary to take care of your family in the short-term.
In exchange, you’ll make sure you don’t end up hating your life just because you thought you wanted to build a million dollar business or climb the corporate ladder.
But don’t take too much time. As Corbett put it, “There should be some urgency here because the end of your days could literally be tomorrow.” This year has been a tough one as we’ve all been reminded that we are promised nothing.
Defining Your Own Success
Self-Determination Theory tells us that we want to feel in control of our own path forward (autonomy). We like the experience of developing and using the skills needed to do that (competence). And we want to be connected to some higher purpose or cause along the way (relatedness).
Meanwhile, Intentional Change Theory tells us that we need to understand two versions of ourselves in order to follow the path toward our own success. First, you need to understand your ideal self, which is made up of our personal mission, values, and vision. Second, you need to understand your real self, or your current reality, which we’ll get to later.
The Ideal Self: Mission, Values, and Vision
The ideal self is another way of saying: an intentional way to define what success means to you. Before you can get to the tangible day-to-day habits that will lead to those feelings of success, you need a solid foundation. That’s what your mission, values, and vision are for.
Mission is an ephemeral one. It’s hard to pin down.
The closest we can get to helping you find a sense of personal mission is to ask a few questions:
- What is your purpose in the world?
- What are the problem you care to solve in the world?
- What is the pain you want to relieve for others?
- How do you want your life and work to make people feel?
- What change do you want to create in the world?
- What one sentence would others use to describe your contribution to their lives?
A great example from the show is cooking food for others vs what that food and the process to prepare it represents to you. Cooking food is a vehicle for creating a change or fulfilling a purpose. Your mission lies in that change or purpose behind the food.
Values are the 3–7 words or phrases that represent the way you want to live your life and make decisions.
To define them, you can brainstorm a large list of words or phrases that fit the criteria of how you lead your life and how you make decisions. Over time, try them on for size and narrow them down to a small list that makes up the core of how you live. Less is more in defining your values. The fewer you have, the more meaning in each one.
At the end of each year, you can ask a few questions about your values:
- Did you live your life according to your values this year?
- If not, do they still reflect the kind of life you want to be leading?
- If yes, then what should you be doing differently to make them that way?
- If not, then how should you redefine or change them to make them more like the life you imagine?
Your values are like a compass that constantly challenge you with the question, “Am I living my life in a way that reflects these ideals?”
For example, let’s say community is one of your values. You should consistently ask: am I living my life in a way that fosters community for me and others? And your systems, habits, and goals should reflect that as well.
Your vision is the picture you hold in your mind of the way you want your life to feel in the future.
It’s helpful to break long term vision into the component areas of your life so that as time passes, you can evaluate your vision through each different lens:
- Career – what you do for work and vocation
- Financial – what role do wealth and money play in your life
- Physical – physical health and wellbeing
- Relationships – what do you want your family and friend relationships to look like
- Spiritual – are you religious or have some kind of practice to connect you to a higher sense of meaning
- Mental – learning and mental health
- Adventure – the things that get you outside of your everyday routines and comfort zones
These buckets can help you paint an overarching picture of what you want life to look like in the future. The less you focus on specific accomplishments, the better at this stage. Goals are about the accomplishment, while vision is about how you want to feel. Try writing down a list of how you want to feel in each of these ares of your life 5, 10, and 25 years in the future.
Chase loves that Amy Poehler quote, “I want to make cool shit I’m proud of with my friends.” That is absolutely how he wants to feel about his work, so he might adopt that as a vision statement about his career.
Once you have a mission on paper, your values honed in, and a vision for the different areas of your life, it’s time to tackle the other half of the equation: your current reality.
Your Real Self: The Current Reality
As Barrett put it on the show, “It’s hard to draw a map between here and there when there is no here.” In other words, you have to know your starting point in order to have a path forward.
It would be easy to skip this and think, “Thanks, but I already know my real self.” In fact, we are ridiculously biased when it comes to evaluating and understanding ourselves. Instead of relying on our own , we need help from tools and people.
To get a good picture of who you are today, we recommend two things: assessments and feedback from people who care about you.
Assessments are great tools for getting objective information about your personality, communication style, aptitudes, and more. Feedback, especially from people close to you, can give you valuable subjective inputs to give you a more well-rounded picture of yourself.
We recommend a few assessments to consider to get a full understanding of who you are:
For feedback from family and friends, we recommend taking a 360º approach. In other words, pick five people who know you well. A parent, a significant other, a boss or superior, an employee or direct report, and a close friend, for example.
Send an email to them explaining that you’re doing some personal development work and ask them three questions:
- What do people say about me when I’m not in the room?
- What are my greatest strengths?
- What are the things holding me back? What are my greatest weaknesses?
Encourage them to given honest and open answers. Without honesty, the feedback won’t be helpful to you.
Once you’ve taken an assessment or two, and gathered feedback from a few people, take some time to review it all. How does what you learned stack up against the mission, values, and vision you laid out? What did you learn that you didn’t know before? Most importantly, what would need to change for you to start closing the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
Now that you have a picture of your real self and your ideal self aka what success means to you, we can get a bit more practical.
Annual Themes & Mantras
Setting an annual theme, intention, or set of mantras can help bring your vision of success back to the present. When you think about setting a theme like this, you want it to both relate to your ideal self and give you more direction for establishing goals and systems for the year.
For example, here are a few of Chase’s mantras, which he reads regularly to stay focused on what success means to him:
- “I am loved and can never truly fail”
- “I am not alone. I don’t have to do this alone.”
- “I have struggled. I still do. Others struggle now too.”
- “I can be helpful with honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability.”
- “I create things in order to feel significant, but I am already significant.”
- “I am this whole thing.”
- “What can I do to help you?”
As Steph left Groupon, she wanted to bring her own definition of success to the here and now. So much of her identity had been tied up in her career progression and roles, and she needed a new focus. Her intention: “My best life, right now.”
In 2015, Barrett set a theme for the year. He felt himself being pulled in too many directions at the end of 2014, chasing success as defined by others. To remind himself to cut back on his commitments and focus on his own definition, he set a simple theme for the year: “Do more of less.”
What could your mantra, intention, or theme be for the year ahead?
Goals, Habits and Systems
“The more I work on closing that gap between who I am and who I want to be, the more important I realize systems are.” – @CorbettBarr
Corbett went on to say, “It’s great to have mantras or daily affirmations, but if they don’t work themselves into something you do on a regular basis, then they’re not good to you in the long run.”
At the end of the day, defining your success only matters in so much as it helps you change your actions. That’s where goals, habits and systems come into play.
A great way to think of goals in the context of your success is to think of them in terms of experiments. Let’s say your vision for your career is “to make cool shit you’re proud of with your friends.” So, you make a list of projects or goals you think might make you feel that way:
- Co-authoring a book
- Build and launch an information product
- Start a podcast
A book might be a thing that could make you feel a version of happy in your career. But that’s a goal that will come and go. It might make you feel the way you want to feel in one moment, but it’s not a reliable way to experience success on an ongoing basis.
Instead, you can use goals like the ones above as a bucket list, or impossible list, as Joel Runyon puts it. Make a long list of all the projects and goals you think might lead you to feel the way you want to feel in each area of your life.
Each year, or quarter, or month pick a few areas of your life you want to improve. For example: maybe you want to work on your career and your financial wellbeing for the next 6 months. Great. Pull out your impossible list for each of those areas and pick a few goals.
Now, take James Clear’s advice and ask yourself: what system could I put in place to make myself more likely to experience the feeling of success on an ongoing basis rather than just once. In the case of writing a book, that might be writing at least 1,000 words per week and publishing them on your blog.
That’s exactly what James Clear did. In the process, he wrote two articles each week, and that added up to 125,000 words written in a year… or the equivalent of two books. Instead of experiencing success just once from the process, he got to experience that feeling over and over again. If a book results from that, great! If not, that’s ok because he still stuck to his system that gave him the feeling he envisioned.
Habits are much like the process of growing a company. You have to form hypotheses, try them, test them, keep what works, and shed what doesn’t. You might not get them right the first time, but it’s worth trying so you learn what works for you. Here is the spreadsheet template Barrett mentioned he uses to track his personal goals and habits.
And, finally, let’s talk about role models as a final way to help you define your own success and then build it into your life.
Once you’ve designed your own definition of success… Who will hold you accountable to your new mission, vision, and systems? How will you get the inspiration you need to stick to it?
Role models are perfect for this. Ask yourself: Who’s a role model that represents your new definition of success?
The point is not, “I want to be just like her.” It’s “who are the people who can teach me to be more like the person I want to become.” A given role model probably can’t be a role model in every area of your life, but they can probably be a role model in at least one area, like your relationships or your career.
Chase recommends taking it a step further. He researches his potential role models, learns about their lives, and, if they make the cut, he prints out their photo and puts it on an inspiration board. When he’s making tough decisions and struggling to remind himself of his definition of success, it’s a great chance to say, “What would Jack Dorsey do in this situation?” (Or whoever your role model might be.)
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Phew, that’s a doozie! Success… who knew we’d have so much to say?
Here are a few thoughts from our team as you start thinking about defining your own success (and neglecting the dogmatic definition we’ve had for so long).
Chase’s favorite simple way to think about his vision, especially for his work, is to consistently ask himself, “What do you want your body of work to look like in five years?” That might be something that helps you focus in on one aspect of your personal success.
As Barrett wrapped up his thoughts, he shared, “It’s so much better to describe success as a set of feelings, rather than accomplishments. You can feel a thing today, and tomorrow, and forever through the pursuit of different projects or goals… whereas a project might happen one time and then it’s over. Many different projects can make you feel a certain way. Focus on the feeling.”
“There is no there,” a potent reminder from Steph to always keep in mind that accomplishments are fleeting. Focus on the here and now.
And Corbett rounds us out with the simple wisdom: “Success is more a state of being than an accomplishment.”
So go, be successful. But do it on your own terms.
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““We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~ Aristotle”