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How to Determine Success

How to determine success

When looking at society and determining success, too often we point to the wrong factors.  We look at one area that someone has had extreme success and say that they must represent success.  This might be the athlete that leads his team to a championship, the musician that consistently writes great songs, or the actor that makes us believe in whatever role they play.  We may try to look at objective measurements such as the amount of money they have, the number of awards they receive or how many people they have influenced.

It took me a long time to finally realize that success is a vague term and we need to define it ourselves.  I started to look at three ways to view success:

  • General Success
  • Extreme Success
  • True Success

General Success is all around us.  We all have successes and failures in life.  Anytime we achieve our goal, overcome an obstacle or win we have general success.  Everyone has some form of general success and it varies from person to person.

Extreme Success is due to one or more aspects of one’s life that is highly leveraged.  The individual that sold their company for billions of dollars, the undefeated college football coach, the famous musician or actor, and the best selling author all represent this Extreme Success.  To achieve they likely had to take big risks, had a sought after talent, or sacrificed their way to this high level of success.  Outside of their one or two main talents, they are likely similar to the rest of us.

True Success is different from both.  True Success doesn’t have to be extreme.  It comes in many forms but we cannot truly identify true success in others.  We can only look at ourselves, our actions, beliefs and values to see if we are successful.  Only by looking at each element of life can we determine True Success.  It is balanced.  

The problem is that we too often look at Extreme Success and assume that means they have true success.  We are shocked to learn that the star quarterback gets convicted of rape, the billionaire gets accused of fraud, or the actor overdoses on drugs.  The biggest problem with Extreme Success is that to reach that high level, one must often risk everything else in life.  They must sacrifice everything which leaves them completely unbalanced.  

Instead of looking at Extreme Success to determine our role models we should instead look at True Success.  We should focus on the acts and not the person.  We should understand success in one area might hide complete failure in another.  

Once I started to adjust my way of thinking towards success, I started to understand how people reached certain heights and realized that I would not be willing to sacrifice the things they did.  I would not be willing to spend too much time at work and lose my family.  I would not be willing to put my body through hell to have a few good years of extreme success.  I would not be willing to take extreme risks in order to have a slight chance to succeed.  

It doesn’t mean that we are good or bad for refusing to do this.  It simply means that we aren’t willing to do the things that are likely necessary in order to reach those elevated levels of success.  Those that are willing, but end up falling later, don’t surprise me anymore.  That individual might accomplish great things on the football field, but that doesn’t mean they are the perfect role model.  

Whether or not Extreme Success and True Success overlap can only be determined by the individual.  All of us can start to look at True Success and define it our way.  This will help us avoid being misled into thinking that a highly leveraged skill or talent, extreme risk, or extreme sacrifices are the only ways to really be successful.  I encourage you to think about what success means to you and stop following what the media touts as success.  We all start at different spots and have different opportunities but by understanding what True Success means to you is the best way to navigate life.