The dictionary definition of success is simple, “Achieving an aim or purpose.”
Notice it says “an” aim or purpose. It does not say “success means wealth, fame, perfect looks, fancy credentials, awards, and impossible external measures.”
It’s so liberating to realize we get to be successful by simply achieving any damn aim or purpose we choose. If my aim and purpose in life are to watch copious amounts of HGTV and eat take-out every meal—this week, I am a wild success. Yay me!
The problem? Research and life experience show us, not all aims and purposes are created equally.
So, what makes a good aim or purpose?
The ones that originate from the inside out.
Daniel Pink wrote a great book, called “Drive” that teaches us how to get motivated from the inside out.
Setting your sights on an aim or purpose that lines up with what you deeply value will make you more satisfied with your life. Some people call these values-based aims.
Others call them intrinsic goals.
Taylor Swift dropped some wisdom on this subject in her documentary, “Miss Americana.” She desperately wanted to win the Grammy Award for Best Album. It was a goal she’d focused on for years—working herself nearly into the ground in its pursuit. She did win that Grammy. However, once she collected the award, she had a disturbing and powerful revelation. Winning the hardware was nice. But, she’d sacrificed a lot to get it. She was unhappy, unsatisfied, lonely, and depressed. Winning the Grammy had not freed her from her insecurity. It didn’t magically make her believe she’d finally made it. The EXtrinsic (opposite of INtrinsic) recognition didn’t give her what she thought it would.
So, Taylor decided to make a massive change in her life. She would no longer be driven by earning accolades, pleasing the masses, or looking thin enough to be worthy. She started shaping her goals from what mattered to her—things she valued from the inside out. Her life’s work and purpose are now centered on creating music that she loves with a message of inclusion and authenticity.
Our aim or purpose has to matter—not to the rest of the world; it has to matter to us.
Oprah Winfrey famously said the best way to structure success is to ask how we can be used in greater service to life. So for Oprah, success is a sense of fulfillment from having been in service to the greater good.
Warren Buffet defines success by asking, “Do the people you care about love you back?”
That definition influenced Bill Gates. He said he is always assessing the quality of his work. But, he also asks himself these questions to get a full measure of success. “Have I devoted enough time to family? Learned new things? Developed new friendships and deepened old ones?”
Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
All of these famous people used what matters to them to measure their success.
Can you try it too?