What does ‘success’ mean to you? And why you shouldn’t conform to someone else’s idea of success

We all want successful lives, but the million-dollar question is what does success look like and how can we find it?

In today’s world, it is common to equate ‘success’ with wealth or status – such as how much money we earn, our level of seniority, or how big and profitable our business is.

For many of us, wealth and status as a notion of success has been normalised and it runs deep within society, reinforced by the capitalist structures which exist.   

Previously, ambitious workers typically climbed the career ladder in a linear fashion.

This arguably supported the idea of wealth and status equalling success, and it continues to do so today, particularly for Generation X and older Millennials, despite the fact that political, economic, social and technological factors mean that a squiggly career is now far more likely. 

Too many people feel they need to conform to others’ ideas of ‘success’

As a coach, I work with bright and ambitious people wanting to create success and happiness in their life. In many cases, they want to challenge this notion of success if important aspects of their life are being compromised as a result.  

Yet despite this strong desire to define their own idea of success, they regularly feel the need to conform to what they feel they ‘should’ be doing, often worrying about what family, friends and peers will think of them.

They are then pulled back by these deep- rooted beliefs which often creates an inner conflict and can lead to a simmering sense of unfulfillment and discontentment. 

Four ways to deal with any conflict over success for you

During the pandemic, this conflict may be even more pronounced for many due to widespread job losses and possibly the need to career pivot in a tough market, exacerbated further by social media and comparisons with others. 

So how can you deal with this? Here are four suggestions.

1) Work out where your version of ‘success’ comes from

Look at your current story of what success means to you and identify where it comes from (family, friends, teachers, bosses, colleagues, society and so on). (You may even hear people you know in your head as you do this.)

What assumptions have you made about success? What is fact here? What is fiction? What is a more helpful and accurate story which sits more comfortably with you and will better serve you? 

2) Find joy and gratitude

Notice during the day what brings you joy, no matter how small. What themes and patterns do you notice? Practice gratitude and again, look for reoccurring themes as you do this. 

3) Consider what your legacy will be

You may find it helpful to imagine being 95 years old. Your life has been full of happiness, joy and achievement. What are you saying about your life? What’s made it so fulfilling? What would you like your legacy to be?

4) Think about any changes you want to make

 Look at what’s been happening for you during the pandemic. What has surprised you about yourself? What have you found to be more important than you thought? What changes will you make, or would you like to make, as a result of the pandemic to your life and career?    

Julie Greaves is a coach and the founder of Carrot Coaching, a coaching organisation which works with ambitious professionals to help them gain career clarity and confidence to live a limitless life with purpose and direction.  

Photo by Tim Mossholder