Wait–what do you mean, success isn’t enough? Isn’t that the point of everything you are doing? Getting up and going to work, proving yourself at your job, saving up so that you can afford life (and eventually, afford to retire?). Well, no. Success in the eyes of the world is not a fulfilling endeavor–ask any celebrity who is entangled in the struggle to remain relevant in the public eye, or someone who has learned that not even money can buy them the worthiness and validation they need. The success you strive for in life should be something you ultimately define for yourself, and it should not be shaped by how others perceive you.
When I first started my business in 2009, I was like any other entrepreneur just starting out. I wanted nothing more than to get out there and do what I loved, and to do well at it. Sure, I knew it couldn’t happen overnight, but I expected over time to build a stable practice I could do for the rest of my life. I saw myself waking up each morning to speak or coach others. The idea of doing anything else didn’t excite me nearly as much.
When I saw that starting a business is so much more complex that what you “do”, I was disappointed. I expected my talent to attract others, but learned the hard way that I had to sow into fields I had little familiarity with, like marketing, in order to be successful. I had to risk rejection by asking for the business and being willing to be turned down (and yes, I am someone who hates rejection). If this is what I loved doing, why did it have to be so hard? I learned four important lessons that helped me on my journey; I hope they will help you, too.
1. Hard work isn’t optional
First of all, anything you want in life requires hard work. I’m sure you have heard many times, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” I have to admit that it seemed like everyone around me was doing it, and doing it well. What was I doing differently? I learned that to look into the lives of others and comparatively assess my own success is a simplistic view that does not account for what I am here to learn. Sometimes you are here to sow, to invest time and work so that you can learn and grow. It isn’t your season to reap, yet. Look around and learn from others. Offer to be an apprentice, learn from their experiences. When you take your eyes off of your frustration, you find opportunities to serve and learn that might move you closer to your intended position.
2. Focus on your purpose
Secondly, remember that looking for success in the eyes of the world is not a fulfilling endeavor. Humans of New York recently shared a story about President Obama. He was disheartened after his first congressional campaign, which was not successful. He had sacrificed time with his family, along with dedicating time and finances to the campaign. However, he stated that when he stepped back and focused on the work, there was always something to be done.
When you are being positioned for your work, it doesn’t always look like success. Some days, your audience may be an individual. Other days, your opportunity may just look like uncompensated work or even worse, failure. They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans. While you might yourself serving in a certain capacity, at the end of the day it is important to be open to being led to where you are supposed to be. Often , one thing that does not work out positions you for something else you had not considered.
If we focus only on success, we lose perspective on every gem, every lesson that we encounter on our path. We are successful each day that we serve, each day that we learn, each day that we give. Money cannot ascribe true value. We must do that in how we live our lives. If you truly believe in what you are doing, focus more on the work that is to be done than the position that you want for yourself. Without purpose, that position is empty.
3. The importance of accountability
But what do you do when you are doing the work, but feel like you are not progressing towards your goals? Simply put, you ask for help. You allow others on your journey to shed light and perspective on what you can do differently. Don’t be so afraid of criticism that you turn down opportunities for insight and growth. Having a dependable source of accountability in your life can help you find purpose even in the bleakest of times.
I gain a deep sense of fulfillment from helping my clients achieve something they previously felt blocked in, or did not believe was possible. I know that two are better than one when it comes to conquering many of life’s tasks. Deep down inside, I believe my clients have everything they need to be successful. I’m simply there to help them see it as well, to stay accountable, and to collaborate with them in creating an approach that will work for them in the long-term.
However, going through pitfalls in my own journey helps me serve my clients when they encounter struggles. If I didn’t continue to go through life experiences, both the ups and the downs, I would have nothing to offer my clients. Can someone who never struggles really relate to what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes? If everything came easily to me, I wouldn’t know how to tell them to persevere.
4. Deal with how you feel
When you are feeling down, remember that it is a normal feeling and is often temporary. When you feel like you can’t go one step further–recognize that you are overwhelmed. Take time to step back and take in the situation. Then, try to come up with the easiest solution to take a tiny step forward. When one door closes, contemplate that it may have been for a reason, and that there is another door waiting to be opened. Letting of where you are supposed to be right now is like signaling to the universe that you are ready to be positioned. Start by serving right where you are. Whether you have an audience of 2 or 200, give them your best.
Finally, remember why you embarked upon this journey. It can’t just be about success. The idea of being on the top is fleeting. So many are fighting to be at the top and taking each other down in the process. Focus on what you can do to serve, to build, to grow, and to enhance the lives of others. That is something you can truly stand on–whether the world recognizes you for it or not.
5. Redefine success
For years, what I defined as success was being recognized for a job well done or otherwise obtaining approval in the eyes of others. One of my greatest achievements is something I never will anticipate getting credit for from the outside world. I have learned to let go of the need to be perfect. After years of striving, I have accepted that it is a fallacy, and the struggle to achieve perfection serves only to exhaust and discourage me.
Does perfectionism try to back in? Absolutely, old habits die hard. This is something I ultimately have to practice every day. It is not easy, but it is worth it. Why, you might ask? When I am not bound to how people see me, I am able to serve more fully, and hold less of myself back–which ultimately benefits myself and others.
By redefining success, I was able to more fully embrace myself and my life experiences, positive or negative. I embraced the path that I was on, and realized that in the end there are many ways to live out my purpose. Money and fame are poor substitutes for what I now believe to be true success–serving at my best, loving myself as I am, and working to realize my full potential.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net