Everyone wants to be successful. Maybe to be wealthy, influential or have the freedom to pursue your dreams. But what is the definition of success? To live a life you deem fruitful is seen by sociologists and psychologists as the core desire of human beings. Success in the western world often looks like wealth, prestige and influence. But my experience finds these to fall short of true success.
What is the real purpose of success? I believe it’s to feel beneficial, that your life mattered and that you made a difference in the world. Wealth, prestige and influence do not create success, though they can be used as tools to make an impact. But they are never prerequisites to do so.
My work as an executive coach frequently involves reframing executive leaders on the definition of success. If the sole gauge of success means increased profit margins, many of the most successful companies in history have had periods of massive failure. Most people don’t know that Apple was on the verge of financial collapse in the late ’90s, only to emerge a decade later as a corporate titan. I work with people to reinvent the idea that success, often shifting it from being solely based on financial, expanding it to other internal factors.
An example of interviewing for a new job highlights the importance of engaging the best of yourself. Imagine entering an interview with a clean resume and prepared for the typical interview questions. The goal of this interview is to present your best and true self to the interviewee by answering the questions honestly and clearly, with confidence. Check. You should walk away from this interview feeling successful and great about yourself.
Why? Because you did everything in your power to be the best you could. You engaged well. Did you succeed? Many people would say the interview is only a success if you are offered the job. I disagree. Perhaps a better qualified candidate could land the job, but that doesn’t change the fact that you did well. The way you engage and act in a situation leads to success, not the response of others. What if this was your gauge for success? How could this change your life?
The greatest impact a person can make is to share themselves. There is a quote by Maya Angelou stating, “People won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel.” This embodies this belief that people make a difference by how they engage in a situation, not the result.
I challenge you to stop seeking end-goal success to pursue continual contentment. The definition of contentment is, “a state of happiness or satisfaction.” The key phrase is “state,” for it’s an internal state of happiness rather than an external object. Many people seek approval, praise and satisfaction by bosses, leaders and other external influences. A flaw arises in this approach because we cannot make someone do anything. If your happiness is dependent upon another person’s response, your happiness is no longer in your control.
Contentment takes back power of your happiness and satisfaction into your own hands. The way you engage in a situation, such as being present, listening, articulating yourself, and being honest, become the defining factors of your happiness. Sometimes there’s a better candidate, proposal or unknown factor that prevents you from your goal. But that does not determine your success — you do.
A goal I have for all my clients is for them to place their head on their pillow, reflecting on the day, proud of how they acted and reacted. Thinking through their day, they like the person they were and how they responded to situations. Yes, they see a few times they could have responded differently, but as a whole they liked who they were. That is contentment, the greatest success a person can have.
Chris Simon is the founder of Elmry, a Bentonville company dedicated to building leaders across the world. More information can be found at Elmry.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.