What 'Being Successful' Really Means To You (& How To Get There)

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What Should I Do With My Life? How To Be Successful & Happy By Finding Purpose
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What is success?  More important, how do you define success for yourself?  That will become the most promising journey you can take to a successful personal and professional life that is sustainable over time.

When you start and continue your conversation with yourself about what success is, I sense there are at least two further questions lurking there:

  • What does success mean to me now and how can I make it unfold in this coming future of accelerating change?
  • What should I do with my life and work and its connections?

I hope you’ll enjoy and benefit from exploring what success means to you rather than feeling puzzled or frustrated by the very question.  In this article, you’ll find suggestions about how you can be successful based on the meanings you create and choose.

RELATED: 4 Tricks For Staying Motivated When Life Tries To Knock You Back

A major barrier to finding the success you want is starting from the outside in, focusing on externals, such as material things and values of others.   That external focus can also relate to intangibles such as opinions and images.  Typically, it may include concerns with security, recognition, and earnings, factors often dependent on situations beyond your control or possibly influence.

That perspective could put you in a reactive mode, ping-ponging among possibilities thinking maybe this, maybe that.  Or you could be feeling “less than” because you’re comparing yourself to others’ lives, situations and experiences ─ another "outside in" approach.

But you are unique. That’s why using the "inside out" approach makes more sense.  You start where you have immediate access, choice, and continuing insights ─ within yourself.

Well, that might be a little disheartening if you’re not as confident as you’d like right now.  It may also be somewhat daunting if you’re not used to going on an internal voyage within yourself.

These thoughts might hamper your journey:

  • I don’t know where to start, let alone see myself in a whole, positive way.
  • Exploration may open issues and problems I’d prefer to avoid.
  • There is no time in my busy life to organize for success.

At the same time, there are emotions, distractions and data roiling within you to address. To identify a range of your emotions, take a look at Plutchik’s wheel.

When you consider his image of emotions and the relationships among them, it becomes your own wheel of fortune to spin.   Then, the positive emotions you choose to seek and experience can support paths to success.  They can also complement and strengthen the rational ideas and visions you have already and will develop below to provide energy and motivation for action.

Create your own directions for success.

You don’t have to be clairvoyant about what success means to you.  Instead, I’m just encouraging you to pay attention to the emotions and thoughts related to success within yourself, to be curious about what intrigues and inspires you. 

In other words, many of the answers about what you want to do with your life are available within you.  To keep your exploration straightforward, assume for now that success is simply a favorable outcome in your interest.

As that focus and your actions evolve, contributions that have meaning to you and value to others will become increasingly clear.   To assist you in making progress, I suggest the categories below for briefly defining your own criteria for success.  Make whatever changes you want in the list, but keep them authentic to avoid distracting yourself from what’s truly important to you.

As you jot down a few phrases that reflect your main ideas for each category you choose or adapt in the list, more specific ideas will continue to emerge.   For each one, make sure your few key words have some personal or professional meaning to you.  So, for home I might say, “safe, bright and spacious.” Or for friends, “caring, honest and enjoyable."

You’ll probably do best with choices that have engaged you over time, but also be alert for new, fresh thoughts and inspirations.

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Criteria for success with your brief descriptions for personal life:

  • Home:
  • Love and intimacy:
  • Friends:
  • Family:
  • Play:
  • Community:

Criteria for success with your brief descriptions for work life:

  • Product, Service or Process:
  • Colleagues/teams:
  • Learning, creativity and potential:
  • Value to myself and others:
  • Security and stability; remuneration:

Other possible criteria for success with your brief descriptions:

  • Aesthetics/Arts:
  • Physical health:
  • Spirit:

Identify the subjects, issues and skills that are most important to you.

Notice that this process is not simply an order to "find your passion." That puts pressure on you to express exactly what your passion is and how to get there.  Instead, small steps based on your explorations will allow you to test reality and your own interests over time. 

Actually, recent studies reported in the New York Times’ article, Why 'Find Your Passion' Is Such Terrible Advice show that you don’t "find" your passions, but develop them, often as you become good at doing something.

Your small steps will also provide opportunities to do course corrections by adding ideas and information that help direct explorations and attention to the accelerating changes so present in today’s world.    

According to Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal, there are even ways to get your passion "back" after you feel burned out or lost. 

I hope you find the following additional steps toward your unfolding success useful.  Perhaps remind yourself of seemingly old dreams to renew, update or integrate with current and new ones. To avoid overthinking, write down a few phrases that come to mind now. If there’s silence, make a date with yourself to think about it again in the shower or somewhere else where creative inspirations bubble up.

You’ll get more continuing clues for a successful future when you pay attention to themes that intrigue or interest you in conversations, reading, and internet explorations using keywords. As inspired, note several for each of the following bullets:

  • subjects and images in social media, magazines, and newspapers that regularly attract you
  • issues that get you excited or even angry from previous study and news feeds
  • topics that arouse continuing curiosity
  • activities and people who have meaning to you
  • values that you hold dear

Also, collect greater confidence about directions for your success by appreciating your transferable skills. As a bridge to your future, they can be paths forward to avoid starting from scratch, especially as you take small steps. Here is a checklist of transferable skills to identify and expand yours. 

As you get better clarity about your direction and what you offer, you’ll find that others are more likely to assist you or at least encourage you.  Find ways to offer assistance to them as well.

An underlying theme in learning more about how to be successful often starts with, “... an inseparable part of an ongoing legacy of our shared frailty and curiosity and fear ─ of our shared wonder at the peculiar predicament in which find ourselves, of our infernal and internal hope that we can, must, make ourselves better.”

So said playwright Mark Medoff who gave deaf actors a stage of their own with his Children of a Lesser God.

I hope you join the very human process of becoming successful as you bring authentic meaning and joy to your life.  On the way, you’ll likely meet some failure and fear, but also find success as you boldly go where only you can go. For inspiration, listen to Reshma Saujani in the podcast, Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder.

RELATED: 20 Things Really, Really Happy People Do Way Differently

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Ruth Schimel, PhD, is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon. To access the bonus chapter one of her upcoming book: Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future and schedule a free consultation offer, visit her website.