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What Does Success Mean to You?

Man and women with triumphant arms raised against sunset

This is an exclusive extract from Career Fear (and how to beat it) by Somi Arian. 

Most people mainly think about career success in terms of the following three dimensions:

  • money;
  • (positive) impact;
  • recognition

Try to answer the following questions as honestly as you can:

How much money do you need to earn to be happy, and WHY?

This one is relatively simple. Beyond providing a certain level of comfort, more money doesn’t always make people happier. But people often still pursue money even if they are ‘comfortable’ because they believe that those with higher levels of income are happier still.7 So it’s essential to know how much is enough for you and, more importantly, why that amount is your goal.

How big a (positive) impact do you want to make?

Not everyone is looking to make a positive impact. Some people see success in terms of impact, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative: fortunately, though, most people are pursuing a positive impact, in line with the goal of increasing human happiness and decreasing human suffering. The question is: what degree of impact do you need to make you happy?

Another way to think about this question is: how many lives do you want to touch? Do you want to look after your family, impact your local community, improve the conditions of your city, or country? Or, do you want to make a global impact and touch millions of lives? Just as with the previous question, ask yourself why.

How much recognition do you need to be happy?

Sometimes people confuse impact with recognition. We must separate these two and clarify how important it is for us to be recognized for our contribution. For example, you may work as a junior member of a large organization, contributing to a significant global concern, such as climate change. But other than your close friends and family, no one else may know how important your work is.

Is it enough, if only you and your family know about your work? Or do you want to be recognized by everyone in your company, your town, your country, and globally? Likewise, if you were an artist, entrepreneur or author, is the size of recognition important to you? Why?

Versions of success

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Ask yourself: which of the three dimensions of success do you value more?

Imagine you are a talented musician who has written great songs, but somehow you’ve never managed to break through. A few years later another band covers one of your songs, and all of a sudden it becomes a massive hit. Now, for generations, most people hearing the song may attribute it to the band that covered it. You may never get the recognition that you deserve, but your song has touched many lives.

In this example, you have made an impact, but you haven’t gained the recognition or the money. Would you still be happy, and consider yourself successful?

What if you receive a considerable amount of money in royalties? You will have made an impact and earned money, but you still haven’t got the fame and recognition. Would you be happy then?

One size does not fit all

Whatever your answer to the above questions, remember that there is no right or wrong way. Don’t judge yourself if you answer honestly and get different answers from those you think you ‘should’ have. Don’t share your answers with anyone else: your definition of success is not theirs to judge.

We will look at this more in Part Three, where we will also talk about statistics and probability and why you may want to come back and review your answers. So far, we have gained much deeper knowledge about ourselves and defined success for ourselves. We are now ready to find our place in the world, which is what the next chapter is all about.