What do we mean by success?
One of the exercises I frequently conduct with audiences is to ask them to define what they mean by success. It’s something few have thought about. Almost invariably, the responses fall into two categories:
- Success as achievement – reaching your goals, exceeding expectations, winning, being outstanding in a chosen field, being wealthy
- Success as personal fulfilment – being content and happy, balancing work and life, becoming the person you aspire to be.
It’s evident that the first of these is largely externally driven and about recognition by others, while the second is more internally driven and related to personal values. When I go on to ask each group, “Is that enough?”, it soon becomes clear that a more comprehensive and satisfactory definition of success incorporates both aspects. Hence the definition:
Success is achieving what you value
Many people are driven to achieve a goal, only to find when they get there that it is not what they wanted. Goals that aren’t aligned with personal values can be described as transactional or “thin”. It’s hard to look back on them with a strong sense of satisfaction or fulfilment.
It’s important for coaches and mentors to stimulate reflection on how their clients make meaning of the concept success. What factors do they take into account? Is there understanding of success one-sided, or multi-factored? Shallow or deep? Can they articulate how the goals they aspire to will meet both their internal and external measures of success?
Also significant is who can and might wish to share in their success – and in the path towards it. Who holds the same or similar values and will therefore want them to succeed? To what extent can their success be measured in the success of others (as for example, in the role of mentor or teacher)?
My own experience of this kind of conversation is that it is often an eye-opener for people, whose perception of their own future has been shaped by the expectations of others, even if they have internalised those expectations and made them their own. Taking a more nuanced view of success and particularly of their own potential to be successful, opens up a wide vista of different possibilities that enriches subsequent coaching or mentoring conversations and lays the foundation for a healthier, more fulfilling relationship with their personal goals and how they pursue them.
David’s new book Beyond Goals, with Susan David and David Megginson is available at a publisher’s discount until the end of 2013. Contact [email protected] for details of the discount code.
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