Dear Claudia,

I’m trying to sort something out and I’d like your thoughts about it. I’m a classic Type-A personality: I like to be in charge, and expect to succeed at everything I do. My family was pretty poor when I was growing up; my parents struggled to feed us kids, and lots of times we went without. As the oldest, I worked three jobs through high school and college to help out; it was difficult, but I graduated with honors, and eventually started working in a recruiting agency. I have been there for 5 years, a top producer with an income to match. So what’s my problem? About a year ago I started really wondering what it means to succeed, and how a person can ever know if they are truly successful. My question is, what do you think is the definition of success? Is it the result of hard work and overcoming frustration and suffering? Or some thing that comes from more abstract concepts like happiness, love and joy? How do you know if you have achieved it?

Struggling


Dear Struggling,

You have certainly asked the 7-figure question, and many go through life without ever finding a good answer to it. I think you’re ahead of the crowd though, because you already know what you don’t know; imagine if you were oblivious to your quest for success and spent your life randomly, with only a vague sense of unease that there might be something more out there for you.

My take is that the definition of success is highly personal, and it is based in how well you know and understand yourself. Your values, the guiding principles of your life, influence your choices and priorities in the quest. So when you define success for yourself, you must also decide if it relates to the achievement of short-term goals and objectives, or more broadly to the quality of life and relationships you experience along the way.

For some, success is measured in the collection of money or things; for others, it is measured in the richness of family and friends, of knowing others and being truly known and loved for who you are. Still others define it in the thirst for knowledge, or the simplicity of having "just enough." Only you can decide how to measure success for yourself, but with that great freedom comes the even greater responsibility of living with your choices. So it’s easy to see why it is so important to start by knowing yourself well. A rocket launched to the moon that is off by only a fraction of a degree will miss its landing point by thousands of miles.

By answering the question for yourself, you consciously begin a journey with your eyes wide open; remember that for as long as you live "success" will be on the horizon in front of you: attainable, but calling you ever closer. Remember too that every new piece of information, every new experience in your life, influences and changes who you are becoming; I urge you to reconsider your definition of success from time to time, and allow yourself the joy of redefining it as the old definition no longer meets your needs.

I wish you well, my friend. This part of your journey is really important, and I have no doubt that you’ll be successful here, too. Write back and tell us what you find out.


**

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"...imagine if you were oblivious to your quest for success and spent your life randomly, with only a vague sense of unease that there might be something more out there for you."
A more common malady than you can imagine!

I think Thoreau said it best (not that you didn't say it just fine Claudia!):
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
TRIVIA:
Stories behind Famous Sayings
The Saying: THE MASS OF MEN LEAD LIVES OF QUIET DESPERATION.
Who Said It: Henry David Thoreau
When: 1854
The Story behind It: American philosopher and naturalist Thoreau isolated himself at Walden Pond in Massachusetts from 1845 to 1847. His experiences during that time were published in Walden (1854), which Thornton Wilder called "a manual of self-reliance." In a well-known passage, Thoreau stated his purpose: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation..." In the first essay, "Economy," Thoreau comments that most men are slaves to their work and enslaved to those for whom they work. He concludes: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation...."
Generally speaking, I follow what has been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons
and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest critics;
to appreciate beauty;
to give of one's self;
to leave the world a bit better;
whether by a healthy child;
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm
and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived -
that is to have succeeded.

So I ask Struggling, can you say that every day you've moved in this direction?
FYI, I used the above only once - when I delivered a eulogy for a friend murdered on 9/11...
Struggling...

Being able to fail [repeatedly] is part of the process of becoming [increasingly] successful. The frequency and depth of failure is often measured in the degree of appreciation you feel once you've "become successful."

If you ever have to question whether you're a success, you're not there yet.

Keep struggling -- it's part of the process.

I guess it boils down, Ami, to how one views Struggle: Is it Bane or is it Beauty?
She is both.

Maureen Sharib said:

I guess it boils down, Ami, to how one views Struggle: Is it Bane or is it Beauty?
She is both.
A mighty wench, then.
What I'm sensing is that Struggling hasn't identified specific goals. Take a look at this:

With the center as Zero and the outside of the circle as Ten, where do you fall right now relative to your ultimate goal on each of the axes. However you want to define each axis - this is your choice. When done, connect the points on the axes and ask yourself - if this were a table top and the points defined the position of the legs, how stable a table would it be?

The point here is that you have seven opportunities each day - one in each area - to make an improvement, or 49 opportunities to improve each week. Improvements aren't quantum leaps; they are incremental movements towards a goal.

But you have to start by identifying goals...
Goal sharing - that would be an interetsing RBC group.
I have stayed quiet today on this post, mostly because I have been enjoying the thoughtful and (as Rayanne said) beautiful responses to this complex question from Struggling.

To Maureen, Steve, Ami, Rayanne, and Sandra... thank you for your kindness and transparency in adding your thoughts about the subject; the post would not have been complete if you had remained silent. :))

Have a great week, my friends!
My personal definition of success is pretty simple...

Success is only truly achieved if/when I'm not thinking about it.

Meaning - I'm so happy at work, my thoughts are things like - I can't wait to get home to cook dinner with my wife, or play with my dog.

Maybe I had a bad experience, but I used to work in the recruiting agency world- and NEVER thought about stuff like that. I've since realized the constant pressure and MONEY MONEY MONEY mentality and no career path (besides simply managing other recruiters/sales people) really doesn't give you tangible goals to help you use your defined measure of success. I am now a corporate recruiter and while it is a high pressure environment, I work for a company that cares about my career development, not just my production. There are more things for me to learn and different ways I can contribute. All this seems to add up to options, and opportunity. Yeah, I may not make $135k a year right now slinging resumes here and there - but I get to concentrate on my craft, develop and implement ideas, and control my own destiny - I truly didn't feel that way on the agency side.
Steve, the first time I saw this was way back when in a Lou Tice [Pacific Institute] series of recordings titled: New Age Thinking. Other than some very old [and still cherished] friends who sat through the sessions with me in 1984 I have only met one person since who was familiar with Lou Tice and his work.

Are familiar with Lou Tice? I think he fell out of vogue at some point and the Pacific Institute was labeled a cult.

Lou Tice had some really interesting perspectives on success and how to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that inhibit one's ability to realize their potential. Also, as you say, goal setting was a critical component in his programming, positive self-talk and an affirmation/visualization process too.

Steve Levy said:
What I'm sensing is that Struggling hasn't identified specific goals. Take a look at this:

With the center as Zero and the outside of the circle as Ten, where do you fall right now relative to your ultimate goal on each of the axes. However you want to define each axis - this is your choice. When done, connect the points on the axes and ask yourself - if this were a table top and the points defined the position of the legs, how stable a table would it be?

The point here is that you have seven opportunities each day - one in each area - to make an improvement, or 49 opportunities to improve each week. Improvements aren't quantum leaps; they are incremental movements towards a goal.

But you have to start by identifying goals...

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