measuring real success

I love a good thought-provoking question. I especially love thought-provoking questions when discussed within a group of close friends – a safe space for deep conversations. I have a game filled with these types of questions that I pull out sometimes when we have friends over and one of the questions I’ve asked most all of my friends is: what does success mean to you? Let me tell you, the answers have been fascinating.

measuring real success

The nature of subconscious beliefs + behaviors is that even though we might not intellectually agree with something, we’ve taken on things told and demonstrated to us as children. For instance, our society widely accepts the route of going to college, choosing a well-paying career, getting married, and having children as a successful life path. The problem arises when that standard path doesn’t work for every single person on the planet. Is the same path still considered successful if the person on it is miserable? I don’t think everyone would that agree with me, but I would say no.

What I think we’re getting wrong is that we’re trying to find some universal standard for success when, in fact, success is totally personal. How can we say that a budget traveler working odd jobs to get by is unsuccessful if all they ever aspired to do was travel the world and they’re happy doing it? How can we say that it’s wrong for someone to leave the successful family business to become an artist if their art brings them more fulfillment? And yet, we do. We judge others for these seemingly unsuccessful choices. We’re measuring for external factors like wealth, esteem, and assets instead of internal factors like satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy.

One root cause of this judgement is the need for security and stability. Our culture is built on the idea that chasing money and pursuing a traditional career is the only way to have security in life. In reality, we don’t actually have much control over the fate of our jobs and the success of our companies. We could wake up tomorrow physically unable to do something critical to our job performance – then what? We’ve founded our sense of accomplishment and success on something that’s not all that stable in the first place.

What I’m really saying is that we can’t measure every person’s success by the same arbitrary standards. It’s more personal than that. Small talk is one of my least favorite things in the world because I want to talk about things that matter to the person I’m talking to. Instead of asking what someone does or how things are going at work, I like to get to know more about where their happiness lies. Hearing this deeper information from them allows me to better understand where they are and not judge them based on an arbitrary set of standards for success. A few questions to facilitate those types of conversations are:  

·       What are you working towards?

·       How fulfilled/happy/excited are you right now?

·       What do you want to contribute to the world?

·       What is your version of success?

·       What’s going right for you?

Loosening our views on success does a few things. It helps us understand each other on a personal level. It helps us account for people who are wildly happy doing things their own way. It lets us measure progress and not just the end goal. It allows us to recognize that fitting ourselves into a traditional life path might not be the best way to go. It gives us options.

So next time you go to measure someone against your yardstick of success, consider that they might be using the metric system!