When you think of success, what comes to mind?
If I answered this question a few years ago, my answer would probably be an exceptionally wealthy person with a waterfront mansion and impeccable clothes, who summers in a tropical locale, has an ivy league education, does a very important c-level (CEO, COO, CFO, etc) job or is at the top 1% of their field.
I believed success was getting good grades, getting a stable (read: corporate) job, retiring at a ripe old age, and that was it! You put your head down, worked to make a good living and hoped you liked the career you were in, although that wasn’t a requirement. As I got older, this plan just didn’t appeal to me at all. But society is rife with narratives of the starving artist, the aimless creative, and those pursuing a dream that never comes true. The overarching theme of these stories are that these lives are riddled with sadness, poverty, and struggle.
After trying to do the whole corporate life for a while, I really could not picture doing it for the rest of my life. I was spending the vast majority of my life doing something I wasn’t all that excited about. How does that make sense at all?
Starting Tiny Curl and taking the time to explore what I enjoy about life, my idea of success has changed drastically. It has not been an easy shift and has taken about a year for me to finally accept that not every one will understand what I’m doing, that I can make money in non-conventional ways, and that I need to respect my priorities in organizing my life.
Now, I define success as the ability to spend the majority of my time doing what moves me – doing the thing that makes me do a happy dance, living a life meaningful to me, and sharing that life with those I love.
The first definition of success I gave – I’ll call it societal success – is how society at large defines success and that ideal is detrimental.
This isn’t to say societal success is bad or invalid. If it’s your goal and you are happy to center your life on attaining it, you do you! What makes societal success a problem is when it is the only version of success that is valid, accepted, and applauded. It neglects others who chose to spend their life in pursuit of different things and ideals. These alt-successers have long been on the fringes of society and written off as hippies and eccentrics.
I want you to try something that challenges your ideas of success. Throw out the societal success ideal and think for a moment about what makes YOU happy – what you’re passionate about, what you want to spend your time on earth doing. Make a list of the things in life you find most important. I find it helpful to rank it in order as best as you can. This list – I’ll call it your Success List – illuminates what you want to achieve and maintain for your successful life.
Side note about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – in his theory, Maslow states that humans have different kinds of needs and that those needs are arranged in a hierarchy with some needs being more basic and primitive (like food, water, and shelter) than others (recognition and creativity). For the next exercise, I want you to assume that your basic needs are met, such as access to clean water, food, and shelter. But feel free to detail what kind of food and shelter you want if it goes beyond meeting the basic function of survival.
Here is my Success List:
– Strong and meaningful relationships with family and friends
– Making things that bring me unreasonable amounts of joy
– Having fun and being present in my life
– Having a comfortable and beautiful home to enjoy every day and share with others
– Having children one day and spending LOTS of time with them
– Raising the collective consciousness of the world by encouraging creativity and sparking happiness
– Traveling to new places and old favorites
– Living near a culturally diverse city and having access to transportation
– Having a hoard of cats
– Appreciating art of all kinds
– Having clothes that reflect my personal style
Making a list like this gives you amazing insight into your personal definition of success. Looking at my list, I can gather a few quick takeaways. Because I want to spend most of my time with my family and making things, I have to let go of other things like having a traditional 9 to 5 job and perhaps simplify my material positions to I don’t have to bring as much money in. I mention a beautiful home, but not how big it needs to be. I would be equally happy in a smaller home as I would in a mansion if I have the ability to decorate it and fill it with things and people and cats I love! Relationships are the most important thing to me, so I want time to nurture and develop those. I want to have fun and be present in my life, so I need to spend my time doing things that bring me joy.
In making a list like mine, you can easily prioritize what’s important to you and leave the other things behind. Does having a fancy car bring you lots of personal joy and satisfaction? Then prioritize it! If not, a used, smaller car or even a bike can get you around just fine. My Success List also gives me a very actionable blueprint to reach my version of success. If I am living most of my Success List, I can declare myself a success and celebrate it!
I encourage you to create your own personal definition of success and avoid letting others define it for you. You’re the one living your life after all! It should make sense for you. I’d love to know – what is your personal definition of success?