Defining Success: If You Don't Know What You Want, You Won't Know When You've Gotten It
When it comes to your life, what do you want? How does your money fit into that?
If you can't answer these two questions, you won't ever know when you've been successful In fact, it might be worse than that: you might achieve what you thought you wanted, or what all of your friends want, and suddenly realize that it doesn't satisfy you. In order to make sure you're going the right direction for you, it's important to figure out what you want from your life (to find your definition of "success").
Why It Works
We're all going after something. That's part of being alive. As long as we're living and acting, we are headed towards something. Even if we don't want to live, we're going towards our goal (yes, death is a goal!). Our lives are going somewhere. We're caught up in the stream of living and we'll end up somewhere.
Luckily for us, we have some say about where we can end up. Sure, we all die in the end, but we have the abilitiy to decide what is important and make choices towards that end. If you're saying, "Sure, Sarah, we all know that. Make this entry worth reading, already!" then tell me what you're living for. Go ahead, tell me what your life's goal is. Tell me why you're on this earth and how all the different parts of your life fit into that.
If you can do that, you're ahead of most of us. Deciding what we want, what we're about, takes a lifetime of deliberate, focused introspection. But we can figure out different parts of this whole at different times in our lives, and we can live deliberately towards them.
How it Works
If you're not sure how to get started in this process, here is a process that helps.
1. Take out a blank sheet of paper. In 10 minutes, list as many things as possible that you have not done, that you would regret not doing if you died tonight. To the best of your ability, don't stop writing and don't censor or even think too hard about anything. Just write. You might find some crazy things coming out the end of your pen, and that's OK. Let them be.
2. Read your list. Notice any internal reactions you have to different items on the list. Note these in the margins next to your list so you can remember them later.
3. Step away from the project for 3-7 days, except to read your list once a day. This lets the list percolate in your mind. Often, writing down our desires brings to the forefront things that we haven't thought about in a while, or voices things we avoid voicing any other time. It can take us a few days to become accustomed to these thngs being a reality in our lives. We learn to accept, "Yes, I am the person whose life won't feel complete if I never help the refugees in Darfur," or, "Yup, I'm the busy entrepreneur who really wants a desk job so I can spend more time with my kids before they leave home."
4. Come back to the project and read the list again. Note any internal reactions that have changed as you let the ideas percolate.
5. Start pulling the different items on your list together and write a statement that encompasses what you're about. In the beginning, this can be a list of more general cateogories that cover all of the items on your list. For instance, my list would containg such items as "helping people grow" and "working with groups to help them better understand and support each other." My larger category might be, "working with people, as individuals and in groups, to help them better understand and support the growing process in themselves and others. Eventually, this statement will be less like a list and more like a sentence or two, but the list is fine to start.
6. Write down and commit to one step you can take this week! today! right now! to help move your life more in line with your statement. Make sure that this is small enough to be achievable and is something you can maintain.
7. Repeat stps 3-6 until you have a statement that feels right. Most people know when they've hit on the one that's right for them. It moves many to tears, but some also feel joy or peace when they find it. Continue with the small goals until your life looks like what you want it to be.
8. Live the life you've designed. Achieve your definition of success.
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