Success. It is what everyone talks about striving for. But what is success? Is it earning a lot of money or having a family? The American Dream, for example, was the secure job, the house with the white picket fence, the spouse, ~2 kids, and a dog. Is that success for you, though? And even if you could define what success was, how would you know you were working toward it and attaining it?
First of all, there are two elements of success: achievement and meaningful progress toward long-term goals. Everyone knows the former: you win the Super Bowl, your new business goes from the red into the black, or you get married. Those achievements are the rewards for and the results of hard work toward your goals.
But there’s also the latter point, often known as “being successful”: improving your skills, working your way up the corporate ladder while saving money for a car, a home, or retirement, or dating. It’s often overlooked that being successful is both the outcome and progress on the journey; that is huge because most people think of the point of life, job, etc. is the final result when in reality it’s the journey that takes up over 90% of the time while the enjoyment from “final” outcome is short lived before the identification of a new outcome. So success entails both progress and completion.
So how do you measure success if there are many possible goals you have, many ways to define it, and then both the progress and the outcome? Well, the way to determine what success is for you is to:
Let’s take an example:
Looking at this cascade from goals to plan to execute, you can see that when you set a goal, you begin to formulate a plan to attain it. To work properly toward your goal and know you’re making progress or succeeding, though, you need the right indicators. You can see here that for any goal, you’ll have the three types mentioned above:
And that’s how you measure success: find out what matters to you, determine how you know you’ve succeeded, and then track metrics that prove that you’re making progress and are successfully moving toward your goal (without losing other things that matter to you along the way). Note that if your success measures seem too lofty or too pedestrian, you can change them. If you want to win the championship, for example, you can break it down all the way to winning one game at a time (it’s a cliché for a reason). If simply going to the gym seems too boring of an indicator, you can set a more interesting goal of measuring the diameter of your arm or lifting a certain amount of weight.
As a final note, remember that you’ll have multiple goals and so you’ll have success measures for each goal. As a result, those secondary indicators for one goal might be primary or leading indicators for another, which is fine. You also don’t have to track these in real time or anything if you’re not one to over-engineer things. It’s simply a methodology for you to be able to make sure that you are keeping yourself on track toward how you define success in life by understanding how to tell when you’ve succeeded.
The biggest risk people have is ignoring all of the indicators that they are succeeding because they are focused on one failure or setback in life. It’s why so many “successful” people are miserable: they don’t realize what they’re going after or how well they are doing. This can be because they were wrong about what they wanted, but it can also be because they are going based on others’ definitions of success instead of their own.
In short, identify what matters to you, plan your approach to working toward a better future in those areas, and define success so that you can keep yourself on track toward those goals and know when you’ve attained them. You are welcome to live as care-free or disciplined of a life as you wish; if you want more structure and clarity in your life, defining success measures is a great way to get that.