What is Success for You?

I often hear people say in slightly hushed tones “oh yes they are doing really well, they have been really successful.” My initial human reaction is (depending on my own state of affairs) either mildly jealous or happy for them. Then I wonder what the speaker means by this statement.

Some immediate ideas spring to mind:

  1. Money in the bank
  2. Title and size of company
  3. Number of twitter followers
  4. Column inches devoted to
  5. Number of employees in charge of
  6. Size of house(s)
  7. Sale of company

These, however, are all external measures, quantifiable and definable. The real question I want to ask though when I hear that opening phrase is “ok, but how happy are they?”

On the one hand, this is a harder question to answer: you need to know the person, spend time with the person and have honest and challenging conversations over a period of time with them. On the other hand, there are tests and surveys and if you really ask someone, I mean really truly ask them, you may end up close to the real answer.

Although this question is answered through an internal measure, there may be some visible clues:

  1. Being in a loving relationship
  2. Liking what they do for work
  3. Being in service of others
  4. Having a group of close friends and seeing them regularly
  5. Having energy
  6. Meaningful relationships with children (and speaking about them positively)
  7. No dependence on harmful substances
  8. Fit and healthy
  9. Anxiety free
  10. Calm with limited anger

In a society where the Government chooses to measure success by GDP – a purely financial measure – it is not surprising that we in turn assess the success of others mainly through this lens. What if there was an alternative though, as there is in Bhutan where the Government uses Gross National Happiness to measure the impact of economic policies. Started in 1972 by Bhutan’s Dragon King it has led to a more widely accepted measure of Gross National Wellbeing and a UN resolution in 2011 putting happiness on the global development agenda.

So time to take your pick. What is success for you? External measures or an internal sense of happiness? Money or contentment? Our peer group, whether that be through friendships, work or geography has a huge influence on how we measure success. If you feel out of place, the chances are you have different success measures. Living in London in the younger generation (where we cannot afford the same houses as our parents) means that money forces itself to the top of our priority list. The irony of course is that we are doing a job we may not enjoy to pay to live surrounded by a success system that we may not concur with.

If you do want to start the transition from external to internal then start with the “Four Ps”

**Personal Responsibility** – no one else is going to make this transition for you and it is possible

**Purpose** – figuring our your purpose on this planet and living it underpins a happy life

**People** – putting your closest 5-10 relationships in good order powers you to happiness

**Physical Condition** – exercise and nutrition allow you sleep well, manage stress, have energy and be at your best

I often work on a powerful visualisation exercise with clients which involves asking them to imagine their 80th birthday party. Who is there, where is it, who is speaking. They then work backwards through the decades, what is going on in their 70’s, 60’s etc. Finally returning to the 80th party I ask their 80 year old self to give one piece of advice to their current self. Almost always, like my 80 year old self said to me, it is along the lines “relax, everything will be ok”. Start work on the “Four Ps” and I believe this to be true.

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