I often get people telling me how “lucky” I am that I have found success in my chosen career, that I get to do what I love, and that I get to choose the hours I work. Here’s a little secret: my “success” doesn’t come down to luck at all! It was an active choice and commitment, and one that I worked really bloody hard for. I thought I would share a few of my insights and reflections on success, and some ideas about how to be successful in whatever you choose to do.
Define what success means to you.
For some people, success means that they have a job that pays the bills, a roof over their head and food in their belly. For some people, success means they get to do what they love. For some people, success means being famous or having a certain amount of followers, subscribers or readers. For some people, success means earning a certain amount of money. For some people, success means getting a certain qualification. For some people, success means helping people or creating meaningful change in the world.
It’s really important to define what success actually means for you and to have a way of measuring your success. It might be based on monetary gain, it might be based on how it makes you feel, it might be a piece of paper, a publishing deal, a measure of popularity or it might be a combination of the above. It’s also really important that you define what success means to you because you need to know what you’re aiming for. It gives you a sense of direction and focus. It creates a specific and targeted goal to work towards. You may wish to also break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks or goals. As you meet certain benchmarks along the way, you may wish to then adjust your goal(s) accordingly.
While I was studying at uni, there were many times when I felt like giving up. It’s no secret that becoming a psychologist is a long and arduous journey with many hoops to jump through along the way. What kept me going was reminding myself of why I started in the first place. I wanted to understand myself better which in turn would help me understand others better and therefore hopefully help them. I also wanted to create meaningful change in the world and to give my suffering some purpose. Sounds a bit cheesy, egocentric and idealistic, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. The other major thing that kept me going was that I’d shared my goals with my late grandpa, who’d always encouraged me to pursue my academic dreams, and it was one of his dying wishes for me to complete my university education. This leads me on to the next important point, which is to….
Write down and share your goals!
According to a study by Gail Matthews, writing your goals down as well as sharing them with others, was shown to increase the chances of achieving them. As well as giving you a specific, measurable target or benchmark to work toward, writing your goals down or sharing them with others also gives you an action commitment and a sense of accountability. Seems pretty obvious to do this, but how many times have you set New Years Resolutions and then forgotten all about them a few weeks later? Write your goals down and check in with yourself every few months to see how you’re tracking.
Success isn’t a destination.
While I am quite content with where I am right now, I am one of those annoyingly ambitious and goal-driven people that dreams, believes and achieves. The sky’s the limit. If I want my dream job, I get it. If I want to write a thesis, I write a thesis. If I want to start a blog, I start one. Success is a journey, not a destination, so why place limits on yourself? It’s not about being insatiable; it’s about aspiring to be the best you can be. You can certainly accept yourself for where you are right now, but still work toward your next big dream or goal. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful and proud for all that I have already achieved, but I still have so much more that I want to achieve, and I truly believe that I will.
Persistence – “just keep swimming”.
If you really, really, really want something, you have to be prepared to put in the hard work. This means that you must persist! No matter what challenges, hurdles or barriers that you may have to face along the way, you MUST persist because persistence really is one of the most important keys in finding success. Keep going! Don’t stop! Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Even if it is at a snail’s pace, it doesn’t matter! Life isn’t a race, so take it at your own pace, but just keep going! Or, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, “just keep swimming”.
Having said that, make sure you’re swimming in the right direction! If you find that you’re no longer swimming in the direction you want to be swimming in then stop. Figure out which direction you need to be going in, and change your course. It’s one thing to be persistent, and another to be stubborn and unwilling to admit when you’ve made a poor choice or chosen the wrong path. It’s ok to re-evaluate your goals and change your mind about things.
Sometimes we have goals, but then when we actually dive in and pursue them we realise they were not right for us. That’s ok too! Sometimes it takes more strength and courage to recognise when it’s time to give up and walk away than to continue fighting a losing battle. It shouldn’t be that hard. You don’t have to stay in a job you hate, a relationship you’re unhappy in or a career that’s unfulfilling. You have options! One door closes and another opens, as they say. You just have to have the courage to make the change. I stayed in a job once that I hated for 6 months and almost sacrificed my sanity, but then the minute I left I found a job that I loved and it all worked out. Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do because something better is waiting for you around the corner. However, you can never cross the ocean if you don’t have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Change is hard, but it’s also sometimes necessary, especially if you’re stuck in a “comfort zone”. Pip Lincolne talks about how to bounce back from failure in an article she wrote for Dumbo Feather.
You may be wondering, how do you even know if you’re on the right path? Well, it’s about trusting your own judgment, listening to your feelings and responding to them. Doing something you love should create an overall sense of flow, contentment and fulfilment. Yes, there will be challenges along the way, but if you are having more bad days than good that’s usually a pretty good indicator that you’re not on the right path. Also, get to know your limits and set realistic goals. No matter how hard I try; I know I will never be able to fly, for example. Also, sometimes it may be that you need to skill up first, gain a certain qualification, or do some research – so be aware of all the steps along the way, and commit to climbing one step at a time. In other words, don’t run before you can walk.
Being persistent is one thing, but being consistent is another. Consistency creates structure, routine and habit, and humans are creatures of habit. I’ve been learning about consistence recently in Pip Lincolne’s Blog With Pip course. In the course, she shares her blog-to-book journey and insights with her students and she reckons that it’s all about consistency. If you want to write a book, for example, you need to commit to writing it Every. Single. Day. She suggests writing 750 words every day until you finish writing your book. Pretty simple, and pretty obvious, no?
Take informed, educated risks.
This is an important point to clarify because not all risks are equal. People take risks every day in business and in life, however, some risks are well informed and educated, and others are just plain silly. The difference between an informed risk and a silly risk is when the upside outweighs the downside. Think about the best-case scenario for your risk and then think about the worst-case scenario. If the potential downside is limited and manageable but the potential upside is unlimited, you should probably take that risk.
For example, when thinking about starting this blog, I considered the best possible outcome or measure of success, which was for my blog to gain a significant readership, for me to share my ideas, connect with, inspire and help others, and to eventually perhaps write a book based on the ideas shared on the blog. The worst-case scenario was that no one would read my blog and that I’d wasted $20 on buying a domain name. However, I figured that even if people weren’t reading or following along, my time wasn’t being wasted because I still enjoying the process of writing regardless. So, I realised I’d still find some measure of success and enjoyment in the pursuit of this venture even if I didn’t meet all the benchmarks along the way. In this case, the potential downside is limited but the upside is virtually unlimited. It’s a risk worth taking. Steve Pavlina talks more about this, if you’re interested.
Have the courage to face your fears.
Finally, success takes courage. No matter what goal you’re working toward, it takes courage. To be successful you have to conquer your fears, doubts and insecurities, sometimes on a daily basis. It’s normal to feel scared when you’re trying to achieve something. The fear of failure is real, and it’s scary. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear and creativity in her new (and awesome) book, Big Magic. For Gilbert, whenever she attempts to pursue any new venture, creativity is always in the driver’s seat and fear is in the back. She reckons that if you let your fear jump into the driver’s seat, your life will be pretty boring. And she’s right, of course. Fear wants to keep us safe, and it has its place, but we can’t let it make all the decisions for us in life.
As Liz says, “Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become”. – Elizabeth Gilbert.
Social researcher Brené Brown also talks about courage and vulnerability and how we must dare to show up and be seen; to walk into the arena of our lives, whether it be for work, relationships, a difficult conversation, a job interview, or whatever. When you show up authentically, you create the space for others to do the same. Authenticity is a form of vulnerability, but vulnerability is not weakness – it’s courage. So be authentic, be you and believe in yourself – you have what it takes!
Brené reckons that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change, and I reckon she’s totally right. When I think of all the awesome achievements in my own life, I can definitely see how they were born out of vulnerability.
In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené shares part of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s too awesome not to share…
I hope you were inspired by some of my ideas, stories and reflections on success and I hope you find success in whatever you choose to pursue. Do you have any success stories you’d like to share with me? Feel free to comment here or chat to me on Facebook.