For me, there was a story about what success as a writer was. Selling lots of books. Getting tens of thousands of subscribers. Getting a book deal. Being an internationally renowned speaker and thought-leader.
I did courses which seduced me with promises of what I could achieve. Who I could be.
And more down to my own desperation for attention and status, I placed ridiculous expectations on these courses. I thought if I followed the exact steps others had, then I would get exactly the same result.
So, of course, when I didn’t, I felt a failure. I felt worthless, useless.
Life felt unfair. I wanted to give up.
And because of the way our culture defines success, and the reality that almost none of us ever quite fit this model, it’s easy to feel a failure. When the truth is somewhat different.
Our consumer, secular culture defines success very simply:
Wealth. Health. Status. Relationship. Family.
Of course, we all know life doesn’t work out this way. And when our circumstances remind of this, as happened to me in relation to writing, it can get us down. We feel useless, worthless and without purpose or meaning.
Is it any wonder clinical depression is at an all-time high?
The Comforting Truth
But having three months away from the public blogging arena, rediscovering my identity and my purpose, I’ve learned two important lessons:
1) We get to define what our success is.
2) Our identity and security should never be tied to our success.
Let’s unpack this. And we’ll begin with a proper, Oxford Dictionary definition of what success means:
Success: The achievement of an aim or purpose
So in actual fact, success, as it was originally defined, has nothing to do with wealth, status, popularity, stats or fame. Nothing.
Success is when we achieve a goal we’ve set for ourselves. Which means we get to define what success means for us. (tweet that here)
Not culture. Not advertisers. Not the media. Not other people.
If we feel a failure, it’s only because we’ve decided what success must mean for us in specific areas or life overall, and not achieved these goals. Because we’ve bought into an idea of what success is, assumed this is the only way we can define ourselves as a success, and not met this standard.
And often, this definition of success is so big there’s no chance we can ever accomplish it. We give up before we’ve begun because our definition of what success means to us is so huge.
This is exactly what I did. I expected to instantly become a worldwide publishing sensation. No wonder I felt like a failure.
I had to redefine what success meant for me, if I was ever to grow.
The other thing I had to realise was that whatever my definition of success, that my identity and security doesn’t come from whether I succeed or not. It’s not tied into that. Whether I succeed or fail, I still have infinite worth and value.
And that’s true for us all.
So now, success for me looks like this:
If I write the book I wanted to write, in the way I wanted to write it, I’m a success. If I publish a book I’ve written, I’m a success. If one person’s life is changed by a blog post, I’m a success. If my book gets read by one person other than me, I’m a success.
And that’s it.
But if I fail to even achieve this success, it doesn’t change anything. I’ll keep writing. Because my identity, my value doesn’t come from success or achievement. It comes from knowing whatever happens, I have value. And that I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.
So to end, here’s two tips to help you understand success:
1) Redefine what success means to you, and be realistic
If you’re a writer, don’t set success as selling a million books. If you’re a businessman, don’t define success as making a billion dollars. Be realisitic for where you are. Be positive, yes. Be ambitious, of course. But be realistic.
2) Don’t put your security in success or tie it to your identity.
Understand the fundamental truth that you have infinite value and worth now. You had it when you were born. And whatever happens, whatever you achieve or don’t achieve in life, you will always have this value. Always.
We are all going to fail at some point. But ultimately, if we realise we already have value whether we succeed or fail, then failure won’t ever be the end. It will be the beginning. And if and when we fail, with this attitude it won’t destroy us. It will empower us.
If you can follow these two simple principles, then you’ll be on the right track. And you’ll understand the most important truth about success
You’re never a failure.
Questions for Reflection:
How often have you felt like a failure, compared to how often have you’ve felt a success?
How and why have you defined what constitutes success and failure in your life? Was this healthy?
What does a more healthy definition of success look like for you?
Is your identity and security tied to your ‘success’?
Let me know in the comments below!
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