How Do You Measure Success?

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If there is one word that most people want to be used to describe their business career, it would be “successful.” Rare is the individual who starts a career lacking the intent to be successful.  Making the pilgrimage to success is the Mecca, the shibboleth,  for anyone who embarks on a career or starts a new business. And conversely, not being deemed successful is equated with failure. There is only one problem with this observation: How is success defined and determined?

Many are made to feel like failures only because they fall prey to a definition of success established by others. Society in general and the business world specifically set the standards for success and measure everyone against that superficial yardstick.

In the business world, success is represented by certain symbols that are used to indicate success. We all know the ciphers of assumed success: The big corner office, the fancy cars, an obese paycheck, a gaggle of sycophants to bow and scrape, and many other trinkets of apparent success. The assumption is that the more of these symbols one collects, the more successful they are. That may be true for some, but following that path allows others to define your success.  

In business power and wealth are deemed the primary elements in the definition of success. As a result, many launch their careers focused solely on achieving power and attaining wealth; they believe that obtaining these twin beatitudes is the only way they will be seen as successful.

But there’s a price to pay. Engrossing oneself exclusively in the pursuit of attaining power and wealth often causes individuals to take actions that are the antithesis of real success. And when they do, the “success” achieved can often feel empty and unfulfilling; more like failure. This may be a game we don’t want to play, but if we allow others to define our success, it is a game we will be forced to play.

Don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing inherently wrong with power and wealth, but they should come as a residue of success, not as the objective. This may be a difficult concept for many to understand, because so many in the business world are taught that success is not possible without power and wealth. For them it is a chicken-or-egg conundrum.

The reason that most people have trouble defining a personal success they can be comfortable with is because so many confuse the rewards of success with success itself – and they are not the same. Real success should be defined by what we achieve, not what we receive.

When I started my company – LifeUSA – (believe it or not) the rewards of success – attaining power and wealth – were not my objective or how I would measure success. My definition of success was to build a large national company by responding to changes in the insurance industry being ignored by other companies and by creating an entirely new type of corporate culture. Success was based on how effectively we achieved those objectives. The definition of success I decided on, not what others thought.

Desiring to reach my own definition of success I consciously offered the majority of ownership in the company to those who could help me achieve my real measure of success – changing the insurance industry and creating a new type of corporate culture.

And it worked.

In the end, scores of stakeholders involved in the enterprise, myself included, gained power and wealth far beyond what we could have imagined. And it all came about because we focused on our own definition of success.

The point here is that to be truly successful, we need to define success in our own terms and on the basis of what we achieve, independent of what we receive from being successful. If we can build our careers based on this mindset, the success we do achieve will be far more rewarding than that which comes from chasing symbols.   

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