This article originally published on Forbes.com
We’ve all been told and conditioned to believe that success is whatever you define it to be. The great untold truth is that this is a misguided directive that has prevented a huge percentage of the population from achieving sustainable success.
In my coaching practice, I regularly ask my new clients what their definition of success is. The most common response is a big pause and then an impromptu answer. The second most common response is a nebulous, non-specific one. For example:
Coach: “Can you please tell me what your definition of success is?”
Coach: “What does happiness mean to you?”
Client: “Feeling fulfilled”
Coach: “What fulfills you?”
Client: “Having a lot of money?”
I think you get the unclear picture presented. There is one hardcore fact about achieving success that I’ve learned. If you can’t clearly and specifically define it, you’re either going to:
1. Not achieve it.
2. Take the long, slow road to get there.
3. Not be able to sustain it if you, by chance, achieve some.
I remember as a young entrepreneur starting out, I was determined to become “successful,” and I thought I’d better be clear on society’s definition of success. I consulted the go-to resource for the answer. I grabbed my Merriam-Webster dictionary, and this is what it said:
“a: degree or measure of succeeding
b: favorable or desired outcome; also: the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence“
Upon reading the definition, I felt disheartened and confused. How could success be caught up in fame, respect or money? It just didn’t feel right. So, I kept researching. I then came across a famous success expert’s definition. In his book Born to Win!, Zig Ziglar says that success cannot be defined in one sentence, but instead it is comprised of many things.
Now I was really confused. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a clear, specific and universal definition of success that was one-size-fits-all. Why was there so much lack of clarity on the meaning of success?
In my personal journey of overcoming life-threatening health challenges, financial adversity and spiritual tests — and then becoming a self-made multimillionaire, medaled amateur athlete and coach to people from all walks of life, from main street to Wall Street, gang members, cons and ex-cons — I discovered the true and singular definition of success, the one that is indeed the one-size-fits-all definition. It’s the one definition that, if used collectively by society, would help us achieve success more rapidly and sustainably.
So, here it goes: Success is defined as a balanced achievement of wealth and well-being through consistently living the truth of ones’ grace-inspired values.
A broken definition of success is one that does not take a holistic approach. It leaves out some aspect of the whole person. The whole person is:
Does fame provide nourishment to the whole person? Does accomplishing one singular goal? Does wealth cover all aspects? No. Only a balanced achievement of wealth and well-being can do that. And, one can only accomplish that balance through consistently living the truth of their values. If not, the “success” is at risk of failing. I could go into a multitude of real-life stories of people who achieved some aspect of success and then lost it because they either compromised their values or, through not knowing their core values, failed to prioritize living them out in all their decision making.
How do you start to clearly and specifically define what wealth, well-being and your values are? First, ask yourself these two essential questions:
1. What is the most important thing in the world to you?
2. Why is it the most important thing to you?
Answering these two questions will start you on the path to clearly understand what innate forces drive you so that you can craft a picture of what a balanced achievement of wealth and well-being looks like — one that supports your core needs and provides you with fulfilling and sustainable success. After decades of success coaching and working with both individuals and corporations, I’ve discovered that every single goal anyone goes after is an attempt to fulfill only one of two things: security or recognition.
When defining success and goal-setting, take your whole person into account, know your core values, understand what’s important to you and understand that you’re always either seeking security or recognition. Make sure that all you seek is grounded in humility rather than ego to ensure you’ll achieve sustainable “success,” as defined as a balanced achievement of wealth and well-being.