Do you know how to be successful? It might not be how you think…

In recent months, I’m seeing some patterns with my coaching clients – intelligent, driven, responsible leaders who have worked hard for a long time, find themselves increasingly needing to do more with less time and resources in ever changing, complex environments. In addition, most have challenges that cause tension for them in how to best use their time that relate to their non-work commitments such as child care or elder care. Perhaps not surprisingly, several are asking themselves some big questions. Is this what I want? Can I do things differently? Where is this leading?

I recognise this feeling from times past.

As a typical type A personality who used to have a strong perfectionist streak and a heavy dose of self-doubt, I spent a number of years with a low level constant feeling of anxiety. I was achieving goals – meeting work deadlines and milestones, taking steps in my career, and checking off achievements .. but for what purpose? Was this what success was? It wasn’t until I took time to really answer these questions for myself, rather than to let my answers be shaped by what society might tell me success is, that I started to feel that I had found my way and lost the anxiety.

What does success mean to you?

If you have any of these feelings or questions, it is worth asking yourself: ‘What does success mean to me?’ and to answer it, start with the end in mind.

To really start with the end in mind, you need to imagine yourself towards the end of your life. You may have come across the blog by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware from 2009 entitled ‘Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’. These include:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier

We can use some of these regrets to help us find our own pathway to success. Let’s look at 1 and 2. I’ll address 3, 4 and 5 in a future blog.

Two steps to defining your success and living your own life:

  1. Living a life true to yourself: It’s possible you have not considered how others’ expectations shape your life. When such expectations match with your own then your there may not be an issue. The following question can help you to test this out: ‘If you knew that you could live a life true to yourself, not the life others expected of you, what, if anything, would change for you?’ Take time to reflect on this question and write down any answers that come up for you without censorship. As you listen to your answers, quieten the voice that tells you “you can’t do that” and consider what your answers might mean for you. It may be that you feel you are already doing this – if so that’s great. It may be that you would like to make some changes but can’t see that you can right now. In that case, what small steps could you take to move in the right direction
  2. Working hard: Why do people at the end of their lives wish they hadn’t worked so hard? It’s worth asking yourself why do you work hard? Because you like to do a job well? Because working hard means better results so potentially a better bonus or a pay-rise? Because you fear what might happen if you don’t?

    Working hard is not a bad thing to do in itself. It is only when working hard impacts on the time spent doing other things that are important that it might be something we could regret in later life. If you find yourself thinking that you don’t have a choice, recognise that you do in fact have a choice – it is just that choices have consequences and it is easier to accept these if we know why we are making them. Perhaps it is not so important to get that pay rise if it means you don’t get a chance to spend time with your children while they are young?

    Consider what is important to you that may mean in later life you regret working so hard and then make conscious choices from this knowledge. What if part of your measure of success was how many times in a week you were able to put your children to bed?

Given your reflections from the above, what might success be to you? It is probably a number of things which may include career but likely includes other things too. Consider how you might spend your time to enable more of these success measures to be met rather than one at the expense of others.

Finally, it is never too late to make changes. Bronnie Ware shared that people grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality and that despite experiencing a variety of emotions such as denial, fear, anger, remorse – all eventually found acceptance and peace. My encouragement to each of us is to define success and happiness for yourself now rather than thinking we can wait until a time in the future. What might your next month, week or even today look like if you define success uniquely for you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *