Define your own measures for success

Success is such an emotive word. It has many different definitions to each and every one of one of us, as we are all unique and individual, made up of our own DNA.

But here’s a key thought for you…

Have you ever really sat down and created quality time to work on YOUR own definition of success?

Not just paying lip service to the question, but stripping back the layers and getting to the root of what it means to YOU. Let’s break it down into it’s component parts.


We are influenced on a daily basis by factors that can determine our definition of success so the real question is – are we living by our own definitions of success or are we living by the standards and definitions of someone else?

Who are we influenced by?

The Government. 

Let’s take an example and look at home ownership in the UK v’s Europe. The majority of UK citizens aspire to be house owners, it is embedded in us from a young age that owning property is deemed a marker for success, where as other countries in Europe are not programmed that way. Renting is the way to live.

Work is another factor.

So many of us are incredible technicians that believe, because society tells us, that we have to aspire to be a manager or a business owner or something else – now that’s the biggest myth ever.

If you are a phenomenal sales person with no interest in progressing to management then that is OK. If your definition of success is to be the best in your field and you have no desire to manage or lead people then you should not feel guilty or a failure for doing so.

Family and Friends are a third factor.

For all the parents reading this it is crucial that you let your children develop into who they are as opposed to who you want them to be or who you weren’t!

So many parents get to an age where they look at the failings of their own lives and they try to succeed through their children – quite often pushing them down a pathway the child doesn’t want to go down.

You have to let them find their own identity.

Be conscious and deliberate when thinking about what success means to you – not society, not your parents, not the organisation you work for but to you!

Life is no dress rehearsal.


This is a BIG question to answer, and it is best to tackle it as 3 sub questions;

  1. What does success mean to you personally?
  2. What does success mean to you professionally?
  3. Are the two definitions aligned or are they in tension?

Very few people can a. Clearly and succinctly articulate their personal and professional definitions of success and b. Acknowledge the tensions and trade-offs between the two.

The great thing is that when you’re really clear about what success means to you personally or professionally, it allows you to design your life, being conscious of the tensions in place and the trade offs you are making.

At different stages of your life and the different chapters you go through, your definitions of success will change and the weighting and importance you play on the different elements will change.

You will encounter certain life defining moments – a new relationship, children, a new career which will change your focus and priorities and your definition of success.

What does success mean to you? is not a question which can be asked only once in your life and be finished, it’s a question that needs revisiting frequently to ensure a. The definitions are still relevant to you but b. The tensions are manageable and working for you not against you.


The following story is really powerful in its message about success. It’s called The Mexican Boatman…

 An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while”. The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos – I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I’m a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery.

You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Purchase Offer) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions. Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife Maria, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The key learning points from this are:

  1. Define YOUR definition of success not your manager, your partner, your colleague’s or your friend’s.
  2. Understand what you’re striving for and what’s important to YOU both personally and professionally.
  3. Identify and acknowledge the tensions and trade-off’s YOU’RE making. If you don’t like them or they feel out of kilt; stop and assess why. Have your priorities changed?
  4. Recognise your definition of success will evolve. What was important to you yesterday may not be as important to you today. Accept this and redefine your definition of success based on where you are now, not where you were then.

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