When you search for the term success, the first results Google returns are fairly straightforward. They address how goal setting and achieving lead to success. Although helpful, these interpretations don’t mean much to me.
The answers get more interesting farther down the search results. As you explore further, the resources are more focused on fulfillment and finding meaning in the work you do to succeed. That’s a perspective I can get behind.
So why aren’t the pages with this type of message at the top of the Google search? I’m sure this question could easily be answered with a sophisticated explanation of search engine optimization, but that’s not what I’m looking for.
The real question is why is our perception of success so intertwined with goal setting and achievement? Yes, these are essential parts of the journey, but they aren’t everything. Success deserves a broader perspective.
How do you see success?
Each of us defines success differently. What comes to mind when you consider the definition of success in your life?
You might see success as a career achievement. Someone else might find success in raising children who contribute positively to society. Another person could equate success with personal fulfillment and happiness.
There isn’t a correct answer. Despite what the self-help books, the Instagram influencers, or even the great thinkers of our time say success is, you have to develop your own personal definition. You and your life experiences are unique, and that directly impacts the way you feel successful.
Narrowing the lens
How you find success is also unique. For example, you might know someone who takes a stop-at-nothing, relentless approach to reach a specific goal. At the same time, someone else might have the same destination, but take a more balanced view of how to get there. While both might achieve the goal, the one who valued success above all else probably won’t find happiness in their achievement.
For now, I want to talk about that person. The challenge is that this perspective whittles down the definition of success to unsustainability.
With every achievement, they demand more from themselves while finding less satisfaction. This increasingly narrow definition of success isn’t sustainable. Eventually, this kind of toxic success consumes everything in their life, including health, relationships, and hobbies. As a result, what’s actually important to them falls out of focus.
When you approach achievement this way, you not only narrow your view of success, you also limit yourself.
Toxic success impacts how you interact with others. Those who get caught up in this mentality might be distant, detached, or distracted in their personal lives. When you hold yourself to nearly unachievable standards, you can’t be happy for the success of others, either.
Those who struggle with relentless achievement often chase leadership positions, but they usually have difficulty leading others. Who wants a boss with such unrealistic standards? Even though there can be short-term benefits of a team investing intense, focused effort to reach a goal, this approach isn’t sustainable in the long term, and shouldn’t be!
Widening the lens
There’s another way to define success. This interpretation doesn’t limit your perspective on achievement and allows you to celebrate every step on the road to your ultimate goal. Rather than seeing success as an all-or-nothing pursuit of professional accolades, financial advancement, or material possessions, what if success meant gratification with life or happiness?
You could completely change your own narrative. Rather than asking yourself what will make you feel good today, you can be truthful about what will fulfill you in a decade or two. When you shift your mindset, your perspective can be wider and more inclusive.
So I have to ask, what gratifies you? Where do you find fulfillment? What fills you with happiness? If you’re really honest, your answers are unlikely to be focused on what’s happening at work. As much as you want to achieve your unique vision of success, if you set aside what’s really important to you to get there, the victory will be hollow.
Open your eyes, widen your lens, and see success for what it truly is: a fulfilled spirit, a happy countenance, and a satisfied soul.