I feel like the word success has been a buzz word for centuries, but what does it mean? What is success?  Is there one universal definition for success?  If yes, what is it?  If no, why not?  As a coach, one of the questions I frequently ask is, “How will you know you are successful?”  Sometimes it can be challenging to find an answer to this question.  How will we know when we are successful?  It all depends on what your definition of success is.

So often we walk around with a definition that we aren’t even aware of.   Even though we may be unaware of it’s existence, it has the potential to wreak havoc on our sense of fulfillment. Based on its perceived truth, this definition of success steers our standards, which lead us to develop expectations of ourselves and others.  It has a huge impact on how we perceive life and how we show up in it.  Playing such an important role in our lives, where does this definition come from?

Sometimes, we rely on a definition of success that someone else has come up with; maybe our parents, maybe a teacher, boss, or even our spouse.  Other times, we operate according to the definition the world seems to hold out as the “norm” for success.  It seems we rarely stop to consider what our own definition of success might be.

Thinking about what success is to us may not come naturally, and even if we do think about it very often the definition depends on other people and/ or circumstances.  Even if we do take the time to stop and consider what our definition of success is…is it really “ours”?  Is it realistic for us?  Does it take into consideration who we are and where we are in life?

The only way we can come to understand what success is for us is to take other people and circumstances out of the equation. People and circumstances are unpredictable!  When we look for our definition of success, I think we need to look at a definition that we alone can maintain; a definition that does not depend on other people or circumstances for us to achieve that success.

I know what I’m suggesting might seem impossible, since we live in a world with people and circumstances all around us. However, as long as we define success based on what other people should or shouldn’t feel, do, or be, we will continue to be disappointed.  As long as we depend on just the right circumstances for success to happen, we will consistently be frustrated.  We cannot control other people and we cannot control circumstances, so how we define success needs to depend solely on us.

It may be difficult to define success without considering others or circumstances, but it is not impossible.  When we define personal success without depending on unpredictable criteria, we are more likely to experience the fulfillment we are seeking.  I think the only way for us to achieve long term fulfillment is to define success based on our own gifts, and talents, and the unique potential we possess.

Understanding who we are and who we are not is a giant step in the direction of being able to achieve the success we desire.  Not knowing who we are leaves us with no other option other than to adopt someone else’s definition of what success is; a definition that doesn’t take into consideration what our particular gifts and talents, needs and desires are.  As long as we’re living according to someone else’s standard for success, we’ll continue to miss the mark.

To make sure we hit the mark more consistently, we need to stop using someone else’s definition!  We need to create our own!  We need to take the time to discover who we are, and create our definition based on that.  Finding out who God created us to be, and what that best self looks like, helps us to define success based on who we are, not what the world tells us we should be.

A great way to begin the journey of discovering who God created us to be, is to take a talent and strengths assessment, like the Gallup Strengthsfinder 2.0.  You can start here, by finding out what your top five strengths are.  The better you know yourself, the better you are able to compose your ideal definition of what success is to you, ensuring more consistent achievement.

If you want to feel successful, it’s important to know how you define it.  The better you know yourself, the better you’re able to know what success looks like for you.  Take the time to get to know who God created you to be.  Find out what makes you, you.  Then, develop a definition of success based on your own unique set of gifts and talents.

Don’t let the world tell you who you are, or what it takes for you to be successful.  Decide that for yourself.