What Success REALLY Means…

It’s not money or fame or anything…it’s value.

In coaching people through their careers I find that they often present their problems in very black and white terms.  Either they get the job at the company they want, or they don’t; either they get paid what they were asking or they don’t.  The real world is rarely so stark, and neither is success.

I felt this was an important topic to cover up front, now that Success Hacking is alive and kicking once again, because I want to make it clear who this site is for.  Perhaps more importantly, I also want to make it clear who this site is NOT for!

If you view success as a binary action – something that you either have or don’t, based only on whether you achieved your original goal or not – then this site is not for you.  Quite frankly, you will never succeed if you have that attitude.  Let me say that again, if you think they only way you’ll achieve success is by earning a certain amount of money or by having the clout that comes with a certain role, then you will always be disappointed.

You Can’t be Forced to Succeed

Life is full of twists and turns and the people who succeed the most are not the ones who always achieve their original goals, but the ones who keep going the most when their original plans fall through.

So success must be something more than just an accomplishment or a feather to put in your cap at the end of the day.  So what is it?

For the answer, I look to my own life.  By most external measures, I was successful when I was working in NYC finance, but I still felt like I was a failure.  Why?  Well, I felt like I was being limited, like I was being held back, like I could do so much more that position didn’t let me do.  No matter how much anyone told me how much I was seemingly succeeding, and no matter how much people told me I was, I chose not to believe them.

I had friends and family all telling me I was succeeding and it never felt right to say those words myself.

Success = Value!

Success is not just a mile marker saying you did something, it must come from inside you and often that sensation comes not from achieving a goal, but from the lessons you’ll learn from failing to achieve that objective.  True success is simply gaining value from something you experience.

The failure to understand that is why we, in America, seem to have such an infatuation with undergrad, graduate, and post graduate degrees.  People see the degrees like some sort of Pokémon of success, and they feel that if they can just catch ’em all they’ll feel successful.  But if all they ever do is get the degree and then say, “Now what” they are clearly not getting any true value out of the thing.

Goals are Worthless

How many people do you know that have graduated with an advanced degree and mope around because no one will offer them a job paying them “what they deserve for having a Masters!”

…think about that language, they are saying that their ability to sit through classes should have value to the real world, when it was only the piece of paper at the end that they values.  So if they didn’t value it, why should employers.  It’s like me asking someone to pay me more for a job because I have a big Beanie Baby collection in storage.  It shows a lack of respect for the other person to assume they should care about your endurance, which is the only thing most goals truly measure.

Now, what if someone else went for an advanced degree, and used that time as an opportunity to connect with people in the industry they wanted to be in, to get internships that gave them relevant experience, and to expose themselves with people they might never be able to reach out to again, instead of just focusing on the end of the road?  How much more willing do you think an employer would be to pay that person what he or she “deserves?”

The answer is A LOT!  In fact, I think the technical measurement is a “crapton,”

I call this line of thinking the Advanced Degree Fallacy and it should show you one thing: People pay for value, not for “success.”

Nobody cares about what landmarks you’ve achieved, they want to know what gives you value.  Because of that, whether you are looking for a job, trying to start a business, or trying to save money, while it’s important to have goals, it’s more important to remember not to confuse them with success and to place the emphasis on what value you can milk out of the experience.

What About Me?

When I realized that, I finally recognized that my time in finance was actually a HUGE success.  While it might not have been exactly what I wanted it to be, it gave me huge amounts of value and forced me to learn tons, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  It’s because of this “secret success” I found in the value of what I was doing that I can do what I do now.

I’m sure I can’t be the only one who missed the forest for the trees though.  So, I’m curious, are there any times in your life that you focused so much on your end goal that you missed opportunities to add value to your life?  Let me know in the comments.

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