Are you on the slippery slope to suck-cess?

What does success mean to you? Find out why the answer to this question is so important, and how it can help you pursue ambitions that will fulfil and reward you.

‘Success’ means so many things to so many people. And as life coach Samantha Holman points out, until you understand what it looks like for you, you can never really achieve genuine inner happiness and peace – no matter how much money you may earn.

How will you know when you are successful?

I ask this question to both adults and young people, and often the same baffled look crosses their faces as they struggle to define what they thought was obvious.

From my perspective, the more my life and business evolves, the more frequently the definition of ‘success’ changes, and I know I am not alone.

Defining what success means to you is vitally important – if you don’t, the path to success can end up more like a slippery slope with a whole bunch of sucky-ness and stress at the bottom, than a mountain to climb where you can sit for a while and admire the view.

Success isn’t just about earning money

All too often, society encourages us to believe that success is about working hard to make money – which of course equals happiness.

In a recent article, Arianna Huffington said that her inspirational mum would often dish out wise words to her daughters, and once told an overweight family friend (a successful builder) as she saw him struggling with stairs: “I don’t care how your business is going – you’re not taking care of you. Your business may have a great bottom line, but you are the most important capital”.

Yet Arianna still had to pass out from exhaustion at work, suffering severe facial injuries, before she truly understood what that meant and changed her way of working to be more personally successful. Which of course has a knock on positive flow effect on other areas of life. 

Stress can easily become normal

How many people do you know who work long hours in stressful environments, living for the weekend and their holidays, not spending enough time with family and planning their life that begins after retirement? And how many people do you know like that who have ended up ill, miserable or divorced?

Many people don’t even know what the money they are striving to earn is even for – usually citing savings (for what?), or a rainy day.

The effects of stress on our health is well documented, but did you know that stress can easily become a normal part of our day? That we don’t realise how it’s creeping into our life until the effects are more persistent?

A chronic negative thought or external situation will inevitably make itself known as a headache, anxiety, or sleep problems – which can go on to become much more if we ignore it. All in the pursuit of achieving ‘success’ – increased status or financial reward.

Is society’s idea of success desirable?

So if society’s definition of success is simply increased wealth, is it really that appealing? And are you really prepared to make the sacrifices this may entail to achieve it?

Rather than simply accept an outside ideal of success – one that may kill us in pursuing it – it’s much healthier to determine what you want to achieve. And to do that, you need to learn to tune out external noise and pressure.

You see, society, our families and friends often create a lot of noise about what we ‘should’ do, and for many of us that noise penetrates our thoughts – other people’s questions, doubts and insecurities can easily become your questions, doubts and insecurities, and make you wonder if you can really achieve the success that you want.

You need to undo years of conditioning

When I work with young people on their future ambitions, I am often up against years of conditioning: from parents and teachers who are still yet to define or acknowledge their own success, to the media showing us what the traditional route to success is really about.

So it’s quite easy to reach adulthood and climb career ladders that we aren’t truly connected to, and strive for ‘things’ that will back up our achievements – the next smart phone, the designer clothes, the mortgage and promotions, the cars and the luxury breaks away.

If these rewards come from a career that is really ‘you’, that meets your needs and fulfils and energises you, then great. But if they don’t, if they’re mere consolation for soul-sucking years spent in a job you hate, then perhaps it’s time to undo the conditioning and explore what really will make you happy.

We still measure success according to tradition

Traditionally, men were brought up to believe their success was in being the provider. Although this is starting to equal out, highlighted in recent campaigns like #heforshe and #leanintogether, it’s clear that today many boys still measure success based on money and job title, and girls by their confidence gained and emotional barriers overcome.

And while this outside influence on what we think we should be measuring is still strong, we can break its hold and genuinely learn to define our own idea of success if we can learn to start communicating more honestly – starting with ourselves.

My idea of success evolves daily

When I was little, success for me meant making a difference to how other people felt. It meant spending time outdoors and climbing the tree in my back garden, challenging myself to go higher, and it meant being with friends and family. Now my idea of success evolves daily, monthly and yearly.

Can you define what success really means for you? To do this you must stop comparing your life, achievements and desires with someone else’s. As soon as you start comparing it can be so easy to lose focus, but dare to be different and trust yourself, and you can start to feel a shift inside. It takes a brave soul to do this.

In his book Manuscript Found in Accra, Paul Coelho wrote: “What is success? It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.”

So now I ask you – do you go to bed each night with your soul at peace? And if not, would you like to?

Start defining your own success

So how can you start defining your own idea of success? And escape the treadmill of earning money and spending precious hours away from your home in a role you don’t enjoy?

To begin you need to accept that you are unique, and what is going to work for you – what will make you happy and ‘feel’ successful isn’t necessarily anyone’s idea of success (and that’s okay).

Then you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. What are you aiming for in life that will make you happy?
  2. How will you know when you have it?

Take some time to sit and meditate on these questions for a while, drowning out the outside noise. Consider whether the things you are aiming for are really for you, or do you feel you should want or achieve them?

Notice the feelings that getting your goal will give you and the additional opportunities that come with achieving this kind of success – only when what you strive for is truly compelling for, will you achieve it.

Samantha Holman is a life coach and an expert in women’s progression. You can download her free e-book From stuck to success on her website