“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” -Lao Tzu
As we progress through school and the early stages of our career, the messages we receive from the outside world guide us more than they probably should. At some point, we forget to pause and carefully consider what we actually need and want. We forget to think about what’s in our best self-interest and that of our family, and not just about what’s expected of us. We forget to dream about the impact we want to have in the world and the problems we want to solve. Essentially, we forget to question and reflect.
But, most of us get to a time and place, where we turn off autopilot and realize that our definition of success may be different than what we were told. We start to understand that each person’s idea of success is highly individualized. No one can truly tell us what constitutes a successful existence; we define that for ourselves, and it is an iterative process, changing as we grow. Taking time to reflect on where you are, and asking simple questions about where you’re heading, and where you want to be, can be transformative.
My current definitions of success are pretty basic, but drastically different from those I used to believe. I used to think that chasing the ranks of my career ladder would strengthen me as a professional. I now believe there is no single ladder that defines a career trajectory. I can create new rungs on this historical career ladder, take steps different than those of my mentors, and still grow exponentially in my work. I used to think titles mattered, and that they magically gave professionals more value. I now know that titles say nothing about the true impact an individual has had or their overall mission. Keeping close guard of my purpose, and continuously redefining what I view as my personal vision are far more useful for helping me achieve real impact than chasing a title. Internalizing external messages, I used to believe my career was about me. Today, I recognize that my career is about the people or issue I serve, and those whom I hope to positively impact or inspire. Success in my career would mean I created something good or made something better. It would mean I made someone’s path easier. Naively, I used to think that I had to make everyone happy. Today, I know that’s impossible. Today, success means that I remain true to my values unapologetically. It means I surround myself with joy, including people who keep me grounded, inspired and in a positive mindset. The real sign of success for me is when days flow with a sense of peace and fulfillment, and I am eager at dawn to get started all over again.
Take time to slow down, and reflect on what your deepest definitions of success truly are. Never stop asking questions, and be aware enough to design your career and life according to your unique definitions of success.