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Define Success

A 5-Step Plan for Staying True to Yourself

Define Success

One of the most important career and life-planning activities you can engage in is finding your own definitions or models of success. This is vitally important for a number of reasons: If you haven't done this, how do you know what's best for you? How can you make career decisions if you aren't crystal clear about how you define success? How can you be happy if you don't know when you're successful?

There is never a bad time to discover and be clear on your definition of success. Today's economic realities make the timing even better. If your career hasn't gone according to plan, or even if it has, reexamine what it is you actually want. Doing so can make you a lot happier.

Successful -- on Whose Terms?

If you haven't taken the time to define it, success has already been defined for you. You're already following models of career and life success. The question is whether they are your own, or ones you inherited. One of your greatest career challenges is identifying goals and definitions of success that are true to you rather than ones you inherited from family, society and other outside forces. Your current model of success may or may not work for you. The important thing is understanding your assumptions and questioning them.

If you follow a path to success that isn't your own, you may achieve your goals, but when you arrive at your destination, you may not feel successful or fulfilled at all.

Keep in mind that your existing job may hold the key to your happiness. For example, if you were to discover that making your customers happy was the one thing that defines and inspires you, what would that do to your focus and state of mind?

Choose Your Own Definition of Success

You have the power to reaffirm existing models or adopt new models of success. All it takes is some honest thinking, clarity of purpose and the discipline to stay true to your values in the long run. 

  • Accept There Are Always Alternatives: The very fact that so many of us have not questioned the paths we are on speaks to a lack of awareness or acceptance of alternate paths. There have never been more options or valid ways of defining career and life success. 


  • Examine Your Path: Do you love what you do? Do you do fantastic work as a result? Does your work complement your personal and family life or detract from it? Are you excited about your vision of the future? Is this your best use of your precious gifts and time?  


  • Create Some Quiet, Introspective Time: Ask yourself these questions: What makes me happy? How do I feel? What do I want? And then, answer a question from the coaching school, "I know how successful I am by how (fill in the blank)." The answers to this question will point you in the right direction. You can have several definitions of success as long as they don't contradict each other. 
  • Refine Your Responses: Ask yourself "why?" and "is that what I really want?" after each response to the statement until each rings true. For example, if your first response was, "I'll know I am successful when I am a millionaire," ask yourself why you want to be a millionaire. You might, for example, find out that success for you is to have the freedom to use your time as you wish, or the ability to travel or be rid of financial worries. This process may lead you to make other decisions in your life that will help you reach your goal.  
  • Test Your Responses with People Who Know You Really Well: Do they ring true?  

One definition of success that puts this philosophy into simple words comes from American author Christopher Morley, who wrote: "There is only one success -- to be able to spend your life in your own way." Being clear about how you define success will reap immeasurable rewards.

[Ian Christie founded to help individuals build bold, fulfilling careers and help organizations attract, develop and retain talent. A career coach, consultant, three-time entrepreneur, former senior director at Monster and former retained executive search consultant, Ian is an expert in the fields of careers and recruitment. He believes that career management is a central theme to both personal and organizational effectiveness. offers career services to companies and individuals as well as free career resources.]

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