A simple definition of success that is truly ‘one size fits all’
I know one undeniable fact about you. I know a fact about you that you can’t dispute no matter how hard you try.
Regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you’re from, or what you do, I’m certain about one thing. It’s because of this reason that I’m able to make a clear cut definition of who’s successful and who isn’t.
So what am I talking about?
Ok, here’s the one thing I know about you without question.
No matter what, you will always be you.
Move to a new city? You’ll still be you. Get a new job? You’ll still be you. Find a new partner? Still you. Search for a magical life purpose (or don’t)? Still you.
Why does this matter?
The Simplest Way to Understand Success
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” — Bob Dylan
You come equipped with certain tastes, talents, and predilections. Although you can increase your motivation and change your behaviors, you more or less have an innate level of natural ambition. You have a worldview and belief systems that shape the way you view the world.
Because of all the above, you have a definition of success that makes sense to you.
If you reach and exceed it, you’re successful.
If you don’t, you’re not.
But how do you know what you really want?
How do you know which dreams are really yours?
Is there a way to figure out whether or not your definition of success is accurate so that you can reach it and be happy?
Yes and no.
You’ll never know exactly, but you kinda know. You pretty much know. And here’s what’s most important, you know enough to know when you’re selling yourself short. I’d rather you overshoot, realize the success you achieved wasn’t quite what you’d thought it’d be, and scale back than to never get close to your true potential.
And the most important tell of all…
When you go about your day, are you doing things you want to do or not? Even if you don’t know exactly what your dream life might look like, avoiding things you hate or don’t want to do is a much better litmus test.
If you don’t feel like you want to be doing what you’re doing, shouldn’t that be enough of a sign? Shouldn’t that be enough motivation?
That’s no easy answer either. You have obligations, real ones, and you don’t always have time and freedom to play this little success game. You have to live your real life. I get it.
This is why I always talk about carving little bits and time to work instead of overhauling your life. You can get where you want to go in little chunks. And the “point of arrival” is different depending on who you are.
For one person, opening up a bakery in their town fits the bill. For another, anything less than millions in the bank and an ostentatious lifestyle won’t suffice.
Some people genuinely do just want to live a simple life — have a decent job they don’t hate, have a family, and enjoy their time on the planet without getting all obsessed with this “success” nonsense.
But how many people genuinely feel this way?
How do you feel?
Out of the entire pool of people who say they just want a simple life, a fraction of them actually means it. Maybe they don’t want world domination, but they want something more. Something different.
Maybe you don’t want to become a master of the universe, but I’d bet you have some unrealized dreams you want to accomplish.
Is the Idea of Success Overblown?
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” — Helen Keller
I remember overhearing a conversation my, at the time, grandmother-in-law was having on the phone. She’s in her 80’s — enough time to have decided whether or not her own life was a success.
She said something along the lines of, “Oh, well, ya’ know, I guess I’d say I had a pretty good life. I got to spend time with the people I love […].” The tone of her voice struck me. You can almost hear the one in a phrase like “Oh, well, ya’ know,” can’t you?
Personally, I’ve never wanted to look back at my life and say, “Oh, well, ya’ know,” about anything. I want it to be more like “Holy crap I can’t believe I pulled this off.”
I want my life to be a grand adventure. And this could be my bias talking, but I’m pretty sure you do, too.
What’s the truth here, really? What’s the truth for you? Honestly, I’m curious. Sometimes I do think I’m wrong about all of this. That’s why I leave it up to you.
If you were being 1,000 percent honest with yourself, how much of your own “grand adventure” have you left on the table?
Do you personally need to have one?
Think about how you’ve spent the past year, the past decade, hell, maybe the past few decades. Do you have to use rationalizations to make yourself feel good about what happened? Are you content or are you lying to yourself?
Only you know the answer.
I understand that big dreams aren’t meant for everyone. I get that many self-improvement writers make too big a deal about living the perfect life, being rich, traveling the world, being perfectly optimized, having maximum work and play, etc.
Your life probably isn’t bad. Most people’s lives aren’t bad.
But as much as I try to bounce back and forth between accepting other people’s choices and wishing they pushed themselves to do more, I always come back to the same feeling.
I just don’t see how living a lukewarm life makes sense in the context of only having one life.
What All “Successful” People Have in Common
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” — Steven Pressfield
I care about you enough to tell you the truth.
To do this whole “live your dream” thing, you have to be the exception. I write blog posts, shoot videos, write books, give talks, etc. all in the hopes that I’m able to reach the five to 10 percent of people who are actually going to pull it off.
I know what it feels like to be this person. If you’re reading this right now, odds are you could be this person.
And even as someone who is somewhat unplugged from the Matrix, somewhat ambitious, and somewhat open to the possibility of living a better life, it’s still tough. But even though it’s difficult to pull off, there’s something positive to hang onto.
Five to 10 percent of the population is still a helluva lot of people. The percentage is low, but as you progress, you’ll enter more and more into this bubble of people who are trying to live their grand adventure.
I’ve met many, many, many of these people. And we all have something in common.
We are petrified.
Every day, I feel like the jig is going to be up. In the back of my mind, I feel like my entire audience will disappear, my bank account will drop to zero, I’ll either be on the streets homeless or will have to tuck my tail between my legs and apply for some job I don’t really want.
So what’s the difference between those who are petrified but follow through and those that don’t?
We convert our energy in the right direction.
The way I see things, I accept negative emotions and fear as a given. Since I stop wishing they’d go away, I make a decision about what I’m going to do with these feelings to help me reach my goals.
I use fear as fuel. When I’m afraid, my fear pushes me. I know fear means I’m headed in the right direction. Then, I draw on reference experiences and create positive associations instead of negative ones.
Here’s what I mean — I’ve had experiences in my past where I felt afraid and did the thing anyway, e.g, the time I totally froze during rehearsal minutes before I gave my TEDx talk. I remember the feeling that followed, total euphoria.
Each time I feel afraid of tackling something new, I’ve taught myself to connect fear with euphoria, instead of fear with real pain and harm.
Still, you have a little chicken and egg thing going on here. Where do you get that first moment of “feeling the fear and doing the thing anyway” to draw on in the future?
Well, my friend, that one’s on you. I think this will become the official slogan of my career “No amount of self-help content can fill the thought between gap and action.”
I can tell you what it feels like after you follow through. You’ll feel an indescribable level of joy. You’ll feel like you’ve made your dent in the universe.
Do this enough times, and you’ll get addicted to it. And you’ll actually be less afraid. You’ll tackle bigger and better challenges that will scare you, but you’ll have more and more reference experiences.
Then, one day, you get to look back on your grand adventure.
You Tell Me…
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” — Henry David Thoreau
You don’t have to visit every country in the world, but I bet you want to do more than stay in your hometown and even home country for your entire life.
Maybe you don’t want to be rich, but having the means to have some of the experiences you can’t currently afford would be pretty damn nice, wouldn’t it?
This isn’t about living the self-help guru lifestyle.
It’s about answering your own personal call. It’s about ‘doing the thing’.
I have a little experiment I run with people in conversation. I’ll ask them what they want to do with their life. First, they’ll give me their boilerplate answer, usually something about climbing the current ladder they’re already on.
Then, I’ll say, “No, what do you really want to do? If you thought it would work out and you wouldn’t fail, what would you do?”
They’ll go, “Well…” then they talk about ‘the thing.’ Their eyes light up and when I look into them, I get to see a glimpse of their real soul.
I did this at a party a few weeks ago and the guy said he wanted to start a consulting company based on the industry he worked in.
A consulting company isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s his.
The other thing about success I didn’t tell you…
You don’t even have the pull ‘the thing’ off to consider yourself successful. Simply trying hard for an extended period of time without quitting is enough.