What is success? How do you envision it? Under which criteria do you account for it?
For the longest time, my idea of success was essentially a long checklist:
- A job that awarded me equal parts financial stability and prestige, allowing my talent to shine without too much risk.
- A partner whom I could proudly show off to the world, to demonstrate how amazing I was to have attracted such a mate.
- A beautiful and yet unique place to live, which would be an extension of my unique personality and irreproachable taste.
- A body that showed everyone at first glance just how hard I worked for it, making me the epitome of discipline and dedication.
I’m sure I could add a couple more things to that list, if I thought longer about it (but I don’t want to). And you know what? I did eventually get to check all those boxes… and yet I didn’t feel all that great about it.
What the hell was missing?
In a lot of published work about achieving one’s goals, there’s the idea of visualizing what you want, in order to attract it. I’ve admittedly always struggled with this part, and for what’s still the majority of my teen and adult years, I let my goals be dictated by societal pressure.
You know when you find yourself wanting what you believe you’re supposed to want, even though you didn’t particularly want it to begin with? Story of my life until recently. I mean, there had to be a reason why everybody purportedly wanted the same thing, right?
Maybe… But then again, maybe not.
Back to this visualization thing.
One of the exercises that always left me bereft was to be told to first visualize what it was that I truly wanted, and then keep visualizing until I felt what it would feel to obtain whatever I was after.
I. Was. Never. Able. To. Do. It.
And it systematically left me feeling simultaneously defective and annoyed — I mean, how could it not? I spent countless hours doing this, fighting against myself, and ultimately hitting the same dead end every single time:
How was I supposed to know how it would feel if I wasn’t actually there?
Turns out, I wasn’t exactly wrong.
Both in my own life and in my coaching practice, a topic that comes up over and over again is how our expectations have tremendous power, including the power to make us incredibly unhappy, especially if:
- We hold expectations about situations and circumstances that are outside of our control (which is the case for most, by the way!)
- We don’t communicate our expectations absolutely clearly (which is always harder to do than we think!)
- We cling so much onto our expectations that we fail to see what’s right in front of us (which sadly happens all too often!)
Knowing this, I tend to avoid all expectations or, in the case where they’re actually warranted, I try to be as painstakingly clear as I can be, so that I know I will have at least communicated effectively about them. Note that this is typically as far as it goes in terms of the actual control we can have on a situation: we can establish our expectations, but never if and how they will actually be met.
So, in this sense, trying to quantify my idea of success and then attempting to attach feeling to it was always destined for failure: there was actually no way to predict how I’d feel in a hypothetical future moment, and creating expectations about it didn’t feel like an astute plan for success.
Turns out that as much as my instinct was right, the idea of starting with an achievement goal and trying to match a feeling to it was backwards the whole time.
Or at least for me it was.
Admittedly, after my box-checking pursuits didn’t leave me significantly happier — and after life made a great job at reminding me what actually counted for me in life, by taking stabs in turn at my family’s intactness, at my financial security and at my own health, to mention just a few — I had to revise the way I envisioned success. Seriously.
And what I realized was that I’d been doing it backwards all along: success, for me, has 100% to do with what I feel, instead of with what I achieve. So trying to associate a feeling with an achievement was never the right way to go about it!
Can success be simply a question of feeling? For me, it is.
Now, if you’re reading this and frowning at how imprecise this all seems — after all, feelings don’t have the reputation of being quite clear-cut, do they? — I can tell you that there’s a method to this.
And it’s simpler than you may think.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL AMAZING?
Once you have the answer, simply do more of whatever it is that gives you that feeling. And less of what creates the opposite reaction.
I do hope that you have, in your life, these elements that make your heart sing, whatever they are. Of course, I’m not saying to eschew all the rest to only focus on these (I do live in the real world, I swear!), but I do believe that you can find ways to cultivate more of what makes you feel amazing, and scale down what doesn’t.
That, for me, is a much better way of envisioning success.