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Six tips for defining your personal success

The blog title kind of gives it away. I will be talking about success and how to achieve it a fair bit in the future. Which begs the first question:

What is success?

It is whatever you define it to be. Which makes it sound simple, except that defining it is harder than it sounds. It’s worth giving this questioning some pondering though, because our answer will influence everything we do in life. Not having any definition causes us to drift aimlessly through life. Unthinkingly adopting a definition that is prevalent in your family, amongst your peers or society generally can set us off on a track leading to dissatisfaction. Knowing your own true definition enables and empowers you to make the best of life.

Here are six tips to help you come to your own definition:—the-first-interview-with-the-2012-winner


1. Make it your own.

John Waite, a law student, (pictured left above) was the winner of the 2012 Great British Bake Off , a BBC TV programme in which bakers compete to bake ever increasingly difficult creations. The programme pictured his family as being a litte bit dubious of his ambition to be a baker in Paris, seeming to prefer that he carry on along the more traditional road of qualifying as a lawyer. John however is clear where his love and personal definition of success takes him. He got his first in law but he is looking for funds to learn the baking trade. Quieten down and listen to the voice deep within. What do you care about? What do you want to do and be most in life?

2. Delve deep

Behave like a two year old and ask, ‘Why?’ all the time. If you first answer is that success will mean being a millionaire ask, why? What is it that you think the money will give you? Security? The ability to emigrate on a business visa to Australia? Status? In this instance money is not the definition of success, it is what that money will ultimately bring. But then, ask again, why? Why is going to Australia so important to you? What do you imagine life out there will bring you that you do not have here? Keep asking , why, until you get as as far as you can go.  There will be times when life switches back on you and knowing what your ultimate deep down goal is can keep you steady in times of crisis. Lets say that Australia changes its visa policy and you do not qualify on any of the new grounds. If you define success at getting to Australia you will fail. With that mindset you will be miserable and defeated.  If, however , you delve deep and  define success as building a lifestyle in which you can and work with an indigenous community, surf on your time off and live with a sense of adventure, then New Zealand or Hawaii could well be an alternative way to succeed.

3. Have several definitions

I asked a future guest poster a series of questions including, how do you define success? It was the only one she declined to answer saying it was too wide. She is right, different areas of your life may have different answers, although I believe that if you ask why a lot you will get down to the same core values that drive you.  So you may need to repeat the exercise asking: how do I define success in my career, in my art, in my family life etc.

4. Decide what to measure

Goals are the steps you take to get to your definition of success. It can be quite easy to make those measurable, measurability being the key to know whether you have achieved your aim. But often peoples core values are not concrete but matters of principle and those can at first blush be hard to measure. How do you measure, being happy for example? Often you need to look at what makes you unhappy and count the lack of those factors in your life.

There is a very interesting article by Dr Shannon Reece in which she asked 41 business owners how they defined success in their business life. Some concentrated on metrics, measuring dollars and client referals which is relatively easy. However,  I have to say that Karen Kleinworts definition left me stone cold:

Success is defined through an integrated method of results, response and regeneration. Results are based on both the bottom line financially, as well as client feedback. Response is a combination of client feedback and social media networking interaction percentages. And regeneration is based on the viral expansion of the social media networking and client referrals/renewals.

Some concentrated on the process rather than the specific end result. Clifford Bailey said,

Success is when our principles align with what we have attained. Success is accomplishing something we intentionally decided to do

Which is true, but then success could be putting your rubbish out for collection. Of course, if you suffer with ME that indeed could be a great success, but as an ultimate definition it lacks depth I think.

More inspiring were the people who concentrated on the effect on their own lives

Sonny Ahuja said,

To me success is being able to make a comeback when you are more powerful than before!

But how, I wonder does he define what constitutes a comeback or power?

Valerie Antoinette Berset-Price is clearly well on the way to defining her own success when she said,

Never again will I judge my success by the amount of money I make, but rather by the amount of happiness in my heart every day. Through my professional change, I have discovered this tenet of success: success is contentment. Success is feeling proud of what you do and the way you do it. Success is assisting others in reaching their own objectives.

But again, how do you measure contentment?

The answer which impressed me the most came from Ryan Findlay of AFCRN APPRL who said,

At AFRCN APPRL, we make t-shirts in Africa, but we’re not really about selling t-shirts.  I mean, we must sell t-shirts to stay in business, but we’re really about an idea: contribute to a bigger, brighter future for Africa.  The continent has been down on its luck, but we’ve been there and we know how much pride, promise, and potential Africa has.  So, at the end of the day, we don’t ask ourselves how many shirts we sold.  We ask ourselves “What did I do for Africa today?”  If we can say we did everything in our power to make for a better future for Africa, then we were successful that day.

5. Allow yourself to be successful each day

If your definition of success is to win an Olympic Gold medal you are not going to do that every day. Its a good ultimate  definition of success but a better definition would be : to live my life everyday putting myself in the best position to win gold in Rio.

6. Review

At the end of each day, ask, did I live life according to my definition of success? If not why not? If so, how did that feel? Do I still have the right definition of success?

Periodically, maybe every six or twelve months take stock of your definitions. Life changes us and so our definitions may change. Core values like kindness and making a positive impact on the world will not, save that as we age we get to know ourselves and the world more and can express those values better. But the specifics of how those values are to be applied in our definition of success will change as our life does. We may become parents and define success as how well we prepare our children for life.  We may be in an accident and decide that the Olympic gold medal will become a Paralympic Gold medal. Or maybe not. Maybe our review is to stick to the Olympic gold come what may and follow the example of Oscar Pistorious.

Either way, reviewing is about clarifying and confirming and committing anew  to working towards our own personal success.


Do you know how you define success?

What do you find hardest about trying to do so?


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gwyned #

    For me, being successful in life means having an eagerness to get up each morning, being engaged throughout the day and ending the day without regrets.

    My definition of success has changed and I suspect will continue to change as I age. Certainly when I was in high school and college it was all about grades. Once in the workforce I was eager for job advancement. Having children brought on the desire to have my children succeed by being self supporting and content with their lives.

    What I feel is the most difficult part of defining success on my own terms is how it changes from year to year and even day to day. Success like other goals always seems to be changing or raising the bar.

    November 7, 2012
  2. Maria in Wellington #

    Hi Helen,

    Thank you for starting this new blog – I both enjoying reading it and can also see that the subjects you discuss are going to make me think more.

    You ask how we define success – for me there is a short, medium and longer term nature to what I define as my own goals – and achieving those goals then equals success. (So I suppose what I am saying is that a short definition of success, for me, is setting a goal and achieving it – being able to tick it off either mentally or physically).

    My short term goal is a daily one – to do some form of stitching related work that brings me pleasure – it may be actual stitching, or dyeing, designing, even just thinking. The important thing is that I enjoy doing it – and if I do, I take that as a success.

    My medium term goals are to finish what I start – to not get bogged down in worries about ‘can I do it better/differently/etc’ – but rather make the decision that ‘this is where I am happy with what I have done and will stop’. It may be that a few months later I realise that I could/would do it differently – but that is okay – that is a sign of personal improvement. But making the decision to stop means I have analysed what I have done and I am happy.

    My long tern goals are into enter exhibitions and have my work accepted. This goal is the most public – and the one is that easiest to work out if I have succeeded or not. This is the newest of my goals. (Interesting – I keep writing of goals, not success – but I feel you can’t have the latter without the former)

    The hardest part of defining success? – again answering this question from a goal perspective – keeping them relevant, achievable but also a challenge and recognising when they need to change over time . And I think that an important point to remember is that if you are challenging yourself then your goals, and successes, will always change.

    November 7, 2012
    • plancrea #

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment. May I behave like a two year old for a moment? Why is entering shows important to you? What will that give you that you don’t have now? What will you do if you feel you have succeeded by doing the best you can and the work is not accepted. What is your ultimate definition of success there, that you have done your very best or that someone else validates it? Or say you do something quick and you knew deep down you took a short cut and that was accepted?

      Just throwing food for thought out!

      I too am aiming for acceptance in juried shows at the moment. But I am cognisant that very good work indeed can be rejected from any given show. I will be happy to be accepted (very happy indeed should it, please God, actually happen!) but I am less sure I wish to allow someone elses asthetic taste to define my personal success. There is a tension there to be worked through. For me at the moment the definition of success is getting work done which is better than my last piece and is on time for entry. Acceptance is the cherry on the cake of success.

      November 7, 2012
      • Maria in Wellington #


        They are good questions. My response is made up of many parts – all of them important to me – but the weighting I would give to them changes over time and how I am feeling:

        November 8, 2012
        • Maria in Wellington #

          (Sorry – hit the wrong button )

          – it is the “thing to do” – it provides external validation that you have ‘arrived’. I would like that. A lot of people want that. But I think that it is very important that if you do enter exhibitions you need to be accepting that you may not be selected – and be prepared for that. So, for me, I need to produce work that is also solely just for my pleasure to counteract that.

          – I’m actually a reasonably private person – and putting myself out in the public via an exhibition is a personal challenge that I would like to meet.

          – It is still important that I do my very best – better to do that and not be selected than as, you say, take a short cut and be selected. Within the guidelines of an exhibition, I want to produce work that is mine – not done to meet someone elses taste – work that I have enjoyed not only making but the challenge of making.

          As to what it would give me that I don’t have now? – I am not 100% sure – but I would like to find out. But isn’t that part of life? – most of it is pretty broad strokes – and it can be quite fun finding your way through those many different paths.

          Interestingly – after reading the above and reflecting upon what I have written I think the most important reason for entering an exhibition is the need to meet the personal challenge of being a little more out there.

          November 8, 2012
  3. Alison Reeves #

    This post if the reason I read your blog Helen. Defining success and setting goals is quite new to me – oh I’ve read all about it, but have always found myself too short of time to implement it. The result is that I am where I am today, and not somewhere else, that I would prefer to be (not physically but in myself). I can also see (with the benefit of age) that my role models have always defined success in material terms and I’m wondering if this is actually why I have had so much resistance to it – because it’s not truly ‘my thing’.I can see now that success for me is really all about how I feel. I’m going to have to do a lot of ‘work’ now to figure this out, because as you infer in your post, without this definition of success, I can’t set realistic goals and tasks. Just have to figure out where to start!

    November 8, 2012

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