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This True Definition of Success Can Make You Happier

How internally driven is your view of success?

Key points

  • Many definitions of success seem too externally driven, too relative to what's around you, and thus too subject to change.
  • Try this definition of success: being in a job, position, and situation in which you can truly be yourself, each and every day.
  • To achieve this type of success, be brutally honest about who you are and what you actually like.
  • Once you have figured out who you really are, make it a primary goal to find or carve out a situation in which you can truly be yourself.
Source: Photo by Nina Uhlikova from Pexels.
Is your definition of success truly about you or is it about others?
Source: Photo by Nina Uhlikova from Pexels.

Back in my corporate days, a coworker once told me about his career goal. It was to one day find a job in which he could finally be himself. That was all that he had wanted. He had no clear income goal. No corner office goal. No Chief Muckety-Muck goal. No "I will wear Gucci everything including my underwear and pajamas" goal. No "everyone will worship me" goal. No, his statement was seemingly so simple but it was him and profound.

If you are looking for a definition of success, this one's a winner: being in a situation where you can be yourself, each and every day. Such a definition seems to trump, no pun intended, all of the other definitions of success out there, which seem way too externally driven, way too relative to what's around you, and thus way too subject to change.

Take money, for example. You may want to take it as much as possible, but consider my observations when I first moved from the medical world into the business world. Back then, I mistakenly believed that I would run into happier people because they were making more money than the doctors who were constantly griping about their declining incomes being stripped away by health system executives and insurance companies. Alas, how wrong I was, as Yoda would say.

Once in the business world, I had never met so many smiley, miserable people in my life. Many were indeed earning big incomes, in some cases well over $10 million a year. Yet, the way they treated others, particularly those whom they felt were beneath them, suggested that they were not exactly happy. That's probably because while clearing $15 to $20 million a year may seem like a lot compared to most mortals, it still paled in comparison to the Silicon Valley billionaires, the people who already had generational wealth, or the people who had millions and were famous.

If your definition of success is a certain level of money, then that bar may quickly move upwards once you find yourself in higher-income strata, around people with a whole lot more money. You can quickly go from feeling like a success to feeling like you don't measure up once again.

The same applies to status and power. Unless you are the acknowledged Master of the Universe or have somehow found the Infinity Gauntlet in a yard sale, you will always be able to find someone with a fancier-sounding title and more power than you have. Even the richest person in the world won't have the same political influence as the strongest dictator in the world, who, in turn, won't necessarily be People's Sexiest Man Alive.

Source: Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels.
Fame is not a great measure of success. It's so nebulous and depends so heavily on your audience and your definition of fame.
Source: Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels.

Speaking of PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive, fame is not a great measure of success. It's so nebulous and depends so heavily on your audience and your definition of fame. Heck, you could achieve fame in many different ways. You could become famous by filming yourself making smoothies in your underwear, depending on the type of smoothies and type of underwear, and posting that video on TikTok. But fame can be like a smoothie that has way too much fiber: way too fleeting.

Mo-over, you may have heard the song "Mo Money Mo Problems" by The Notorious B.I.G. This refers to the phenomenon that externally perceived success can bring a whole new set of problems. When others recognize you as being successful, your daily problems can soon go from figuring out what toppings to order for your pizza to figuring out how to deal with other people who want to take what you have.

By contrast, when the goal instead is to be yourself, you won't run into such problems so readily. Unless you are an android replica designed to mirror other people, the people around you shouldn't change who you truly are. And unless you have some doppelganger out there or are really an android replica of someone, you won't run into someone more like you than you are. Your comfort with being yourself isn't likely to be fleeting too, assuming, again, that you aren't an android replica. Finally, being yourself, in the long run, should allow you to be at ease and bring to you people and circumstances that better match what you want.

How do you achieve this type of success and find a job or situation in which you can be yourself? Frst, you actually have to know yourself and be honest with yourself. Be brutally honest about who you are, what your strengths and limitations are, and what you actually like to do on a day-to-day basis. Just as you can't know what clothes are going to fit if you don't know your own body, you won't really know how to be yourself without knowing yourself first.

Source: Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels.
The good feelings from awards and honors can be short-lived.
Source: Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels.

Once you have figured out who you really are, make it a high-priority goal to find or carve out a situation in which you can truly be yourself. Avoid situations that aren't good matches with who you really are. Don't go for a particular position if you don't really like to do what such a position requires on a day-to-day basis. I've run into too many people in leadership positions who don't actually enjoy leading, too many researchers who really don't like research, too many teachers who really don't like teaching, too many politicians who don't actually like serving people, too many doctors who really don't like doctoring. Don't let prestige, power, or money drive your decision-making about whether to take or strive for a position.

At the same time, don't hang out with people who don't allow you to be yourself and force you to take on a persona that doesn't really match you. Don't be the smiley, agreeable person if you dislike everyone around you. Don't go for Gucci if you are really a LoveShackFancy type of person. Make each and every decision based on whether it is aligned with your true self.

A funny thing will then happen if you keep doing this. You will become successful. And in a way that can't be readily taken away from you. You will be able to use your innate talents. You will be able to express yourself more fully. You will have people around you who truly appreciate you for who you really are. You will be more naturally able to achieve what your true talents and abilities incline you to achieve. And that, folks, is the true definition of success.

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