In conducting many interviews for my books, this column, and my keynotes, I’ve talked to a lot of successful people. A surprising number aren’t really happy though, which means they aren’t really successful in my mind. I’ve also met a lot of people that were far more successful than they realized. They were just using a measuring stick that didn’t measure up to what really matters.
True success doesn’t mean just being successful in the standard ways we tend to think–like how much you make, what your title is, or who you know. There’s nothing wrong with any of that; and if you’ve achieved it, fantastic. I’d like some more of that too. It’s just that I’ve learned over three decades of being in business that real success runs deeper and requires passing different tests. It means being able to answer yes to the questions that follow.
1. Does what you do align with who you are?
Are you living in accordance with your values every day? That is, are your daily actions congruent with the kind of person you want to be as expressed through your values? Being intentional about keeping your values in front of you at all times connotes centeredness, discipline, and emotional intelligence–all meaningful forms of success.
I also mean this question to get at whether or not what you do professionally lines up with your authentic self and what you’re passionate about. I know one very successful (by standard terms) engineer who didn’t feel like his work was meaningful to him personally anymore. It wasn’t congruent with who he really was and what he was passionate about–so he quit and became a high school teacher.
I also met a janitor who tackled his job with great enthusiasm, viewing it as a chance to, as he told me, “make the menial, magical.” This meant he attacked his job with energy, making people smile or laugh as he did his cleaning duties, visibly enjoying it so that he might be an inspiration to others doing “menial” jobs. I’d say he was a huge success in life.
Anyone, in any profession, can be seen as a success, as long as it’s work that matters to them and its work they’re doing well.
2. Are you working on your life versus in it?
There’s nothing wrong with the latter; you’re certainly successful if you’re in a state of bliss in your life and focused on enjoying it.
This is about how true success escapes us when we get stuck or have plateaued and we know it–but don’t do anything about it. Success is not staying stuck and instead choosing to work on your life, having a clear vision of what you want to do (including how to better align what you do with who you really are), putting personal learning and growth on a pedestal, getting over discomfort with criticism or feedback, putting failures in perspective, and embracing continual improvement.
3. Are you serving slices of something greater than yourself?
Your whole life doesn’t have to be a life of service to be profoundly successful–just pieces of it, in my opinion. The deepest success comes from realizing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself and from being intentional about contributing to the greater good in ways that energize you. Anything from being the best parent you can, to coaching employees well, to being a community volunteer, for example, are all worthy slices and spell success in a meaningful way.
4. Do you actively avoid lying to yourself?
Notice I didn’t say lying to others. Occasionally, it’s warranted. There’s something deeply successful, though, about someone who has self-awareness and who will deal with their own flaws and self-truths instead of burying them.
I’m not saying you have to have solved all the truths you don’t like about yourself. But if you’re aware of those truths and taking action on them, it feeds your inner authenticity–a true sign of success.
5. Do you feel abundance even in the “absence of”?
This is about focusing on what you have versus what you don’t. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like enough is never enough, always looking to the next thing, the next rung. But the ability to appreciate and show gratitude for what’s right in front of you (versus feeling like you’re not successful enough because you don’t have enough yet) is a hallmark of the most successful people I’ve met.
I’m betting you’re even more successful than you think. Think about these five questions and prove me right.