The pursuit of success is an obsession for many. We look for successful mindsets or success habits and even success triggering traits we can emulate. But do we stop often enough to think about what success really is?
That’s exactly what Ray Dalio was getting at in a recent post to his Facebook page. The billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates (one of the world’s largest hedge funds) is qualified to talk about success, for certain. However, in his post, Dalio challenges the concept of what a successful life looks like.
He says it doesn’t matter if you want to be a “master of the universe or a couch potato.” It all depends on your needs. He goes on to say that “some people want to change the world and others want to operate in simple harmony with it and savor life. Neither is better.”
Dalio indicates that true success comes from two steps, both of which I believe seem simple but are deceivingly difficult, so I offer perspective to help.
1. Decide what you value most.
It sounds so easy, but this gets so lost, so fast. The critical word in this sentence is “you.” It’s a common trap to get caught up in what society says or others believe success looks like. Following either of these leads might lead to success, in some form.
But not in the truest sense of the word. Because success comes from achieving what is important to you, from excelling at something that matters to you, not to others. And that means you establish your own goals in the pursuit, with your own measures.
For the longest time as I toiled in the corporate world, my definition of success was what was dictated to me–things like, achieve the highest numerical-based performance rating, look the best in meetings, say the smartest things, rise up the ladder the fastest, have the biggest office, make the most money. The pursuit of these goals came to define whether or not I was successful.
I noticed one outlet, though, one side definition of success that I was continually drawn to: To be the absolute best leader of others that I could be. To create a workplace environment where everyone would feel happy and fulfilled, and that they could thrive in. To make everyone feel as if he or she were the most important person on my team. To put my people on a pedestal. Not too long into my corporate life, I noticed how drawn I was to this definition of success, and not too long thereafter I noticed there was real tension between that success and the standard success I felt I was evaluated on.
Right or wrong, to me, it felt like having a positive impact on employee’s lives, inspiring them, and helping them to become the best version of themselves were too often at conflict with how the company traditionally defined success.
Eventually, I could no longer ignore the definition of success that I yearned to strive toward. I had to make a choice.
2. Choose the path to achieve it.
I chose what I valued most–to broaden my platform for making a positive difference in people’s lives. And I chose a bold path–leaping from the security of corporate to pursue the life of a professional speaker, author, and teacher. I’m not saying that no one can reconcile the tension that I felt in my corporate life. I’m just saying that for me, for my definition of success, to excel at what mattered most to me, I was feeling compromised and so had to choose a bold path.
This second step is no easier than the first. You can know what matters most to you, but choosing a path and setting out to do it is another thing altogether. For many, choosing the path starts with financial considerations. Your chosen path to true success might require you to downsize your lifestyle. For others, it might involve leaving a city you grew up in, leaving behind a profession you’ve mastered or having to learn entirely new skills. There are as many implications as there are paths to choose.
But you must make bold choices, commit to the path, and never look back.
I’m convinced I wouldn’t be enjoying the true success I now feel if I hadn’t taken bold steps for my own path. Yours won’t be the same steps or the same exact path as mine. But in choosing not to decide, boldly, you’ve still made a choice–one that may prevent you from true success and happiness.
Dalio’s point is that we all choose what success really is, and how we’ll get there. No one else can or should do that for us. Here’s to hoping you choose wisely.