How Do You Measure Success?

I run a small business and I find it difficult some days; difficult to motivate myself, difficult to do the things I don’t particularly enjoy, difficult to juggle my clients (and my family’s) different requirements, difficult to meet deadlines. It’s probably no different to most people.

However, I wouldn’t change a thing. I work from home so my commute is ‘downstairs’. I have three children who I can have breakfast with (a mostly pleasant experience!). I can organise my diary to pick the youngest up from school and I get to walk the dog in the middle of the day (another mostly pleasant experience).

I have for some time been grappling with the concept of success, partly because my job is about helping others succeed. We probably all measure it in different ways and what some of us strive for others would not contemplate or even consider as an indicator. I think it is also affected by what stage you are in life, I recently hit a significant milestone and have realised that success comes from different areas of life. Think of the diagram below as a four-legged stool. If one leg is shorter it makes the whole thing unstable.

Career

Harvard recently updated Herzberg’s theories around motivation and the one thing that really resonated with me was that a sense of daily achievement is a real motivator. If I get to the end of a day and feel I’ve achieved nothing, I feel flat. A way to remedy this is to try to set achievable objectives written down at the beginning of each day. They don’t need to be onerous and they can fall into any of the four areas above, but seeing that list all ticked off at the end of the day is really satisfying.

Wealth is of course relative. We all tend to measure how wealthy we are compared to others in our world including family, friends, colleagues and neighbours (the ‘Joneses’ with whom we must keep up). Even those we don’t know may influence our inferiority complex. I don’t consider myself materialistic, but I have to confess to harbouring a secret jealousy of a friend’s new car, or the holiday my neighbour took his family on last year. However, if we spend our lives looking at what others have as a benchmark to our own lives, we will never be satisfied. I know it’s been said many times, but money itself is not the motivator, It’s about having enough money to achieve the things that make you and your family happy.

Family

Our children are under pressure to be successful – academically, in sport and socially. It’s tough for them, and while I’m keen for my kids to do as well as they can, I have learned that pushing too hard is not helpful and potentially detrimental to their wellbeing. Somebody once said that “we are only ever as happy as our unhappiest child”. If this is the case, it’s in everyone’s interest to do what we can to ensure they are healthy and happy. Of course ‘family’ is not just children, we don’t all have them for one thing! Our parents, siblings, partners all play a part in the very foundations of our lives, and therefore working to make those relationships as good as they can be will add to feelings of happiness.

Friends

If this were part of our ‘life PDR’ we would measure the quality and diversity of our friends. I am very fortunate to have people from primary school who I still manage to see a few times a year even though we now live in different parts of the world. We also have local friends we have got to know relatively recently mostly through school. My wife has friends, many from university who she still sees. Like-minded people tend to form groups and offer the social outlet you need. I measure ‘success’ in friendships by making sure we spend enough time together and by how much we laugh when we see each other.

Health & fitness

Getting the most out of life includes pushing yourself out of self-imposed physical comfort zones to achieve things you might sometimes think you could never do. I have friends who have run a marathon, others who enter Ironman competitions – both of which are very impressive, although not something I aspire to! I did join the MAMIL* brigade a few years ago and I would never have thought I would be able to do some of the things I have done, but the sense of achievement is fantastic.

Lastly, I’ve realised that mental well-being is a very real factor in all of this. When you are someone who is programmed to achieve, it is very easy to become self-critical, which can cause stress and unhappiness. It’s a fine line though, because I need to be driven by something to keep me going to do all the things I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In re-reading this it might sound like I’ve cracked it and life is constant bliss…. It’s not. But what I have realised is that we are constantly re-calibrating what’s important and what success really is. If we get too single-minded and ‘blinkered’ in our quest for success in just one area, we are in danger of destabilising the other areas.

*Middle-aged men in lycra (in case you didn’t know!)

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