What is Success?
And why it's a question we need to keep asking
I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other day and saw where someone had created one of those polls. This one asked the question:
If you were to have only one of the following, which would it be?
(Would you be surprised that with over 1000 responses, overwhelmingly the votes did NOT go toward “Success”?)
In the context of LinkedIn, I'm assuming the definition of success that was meant by this poll was the version of success that equates it with your career title, with the money that you've earned, and/or with the status that you've attained, especially as success was listed in distinction to health and time.
But my immediate reaction was to comment that: without considerations of health or time, you don’t actually have success. Because true success requires a holistic, integrated view of human flourishing.
Now, admittedly, the question of what constitutes success can be difficult to answer. What’s more, it’s a question that each of us needs to keep asking throughout our lives, because while there are universal dimensions and principles that we can consider when it comes to success, each of these dimensions must be applied to each of us as individuals, and the answers change as we change over time.
We can identify universal principles of success, but they must always be applied both individually and contextually. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of success.
UNIVERSAL DIMENSIONS OF SUCCESS (THAT REQUIRE INVIDUALIZED, CONTEXTUAL APPLICATION)
When it comes to success, it’s important to recognize that success does involve career and wealth and status and more.
Success requires optimizing health. What can you do to start living a healthier lifestyle right now and into the future? Nutrition, hydration, and exercise are all key facets…as well as optimizing mental health and cognition.
Success is also about time, specifically success is having the time freedom to pursue your deepest values. For me, personally, being able to set my own hours, wake up without an alarm, and have time for my passion projects has always been a much more important marker of success than “more money.”
Success involves robust relationships. Because while some of us may be introverts and some of us may be extroverts, and while your own particular relationship needs and desires might be different depending on your current stage of life, as humans we are fundamentally social beings. There is no success without someone to share it with, without some form of intimacy and human connection.
Success also requires purpose and meaning. It requires having a long-term vision that is consistent with our human nature as conceptual beings who don't just function in the present moment, but possess the capacity of awareness for the past and the future as well. We all need that sense of who we are, where we've come from and the positive difference, the impact that we can make with our lives. To achieve success, you need to reflect on abstract concepts such truth, virtue, and core values, then embody these in your everyday actions.
Success also requires considerations of mastery and strengths, because we can’t have success without the skills that we develop to make us competent, confident, resilient human beings. Because life inevitably involves struggle, but we can be problem solvers and create not only the tools and resources but the underlying foundations of character that will empower us to rise above.
Lastly, I don't believe we can have success without autonomy and a sense of freedom. While it's true that too many choices may be overwhelming, a certain amount of choice is necessary for each of us to truly feel fulfilled, to feel that sense of self-governance and control in our destiny that is part of human flourishing.
Again, these are some of the dimensions that are universal to the human experience, but that will always need to be applied personally and contextually.
SUCCESS GROUNDED ON SELF-ACTUALIZATION & FLOW
In order to fully realize success, I think we can profit from some of the insights that have come out of Humanistic and Positive Psychology, for example, the concept of self-actualization,
Abraham Maslow, who pioneered the term, described self-actualization as the process of becoming everything you are capable of becoming, the process of realizing your unique potential.
I love how the emphasis is on self-actualization as a process, that success is not “a place” or “a state” where we ultimately arrive and then have it forever. Because, like life itself, success is activity. Success is never complete as long as we are alive
Along with Maslow and self-actualization, I love the insights into human flourishing that come from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow. Flow, you might know, is defined as that state when you both feel your best and perform your best. Flow is both peak performance and optimal experience. It's that ultimate state of engagement, that state when you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, you're completely absorbed in a challenge that is stretching you, but is doable. As Csikszentmihalyi said, flow is when you are stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
This concept of “worthwhile” again brings us back to the question of what, exactly, is success. Interestingly, one of Csikszentmihalyi’s key ideas is that, contrary to expectations, what truly gives us fulfillment and joy is not mere moments of leisure, but rather attempting something that is difficult, something that pushes us to grow and to develop more “complexity of the self” as he would put it. Those are the moments that give us the most happiness, that give us the most profound experiences of success.
Now, of course, the real challenge of living a successful life is taking the universalized insights and applying them personally to your unique life. As a coach, this is exactly why I offer bespoke coaching packages and work with people one-on-one, because the real challenge and work is not in laying out some list of the elements of success, the real challenge is figuring out how to put all of these elements together in a way that meets you where you are at, and that’s a process that can often take some time.
That said, I do want to provide you here with something actionable. So, here are three questions that I often like to ask my coaching clients that will hopefully help you to reflect upon what success means in your own life so that you can pursue it with even more focus and intention going forward.
1. When is a time when you were performing at your best?
2. When is a time you achieved a difficult and worthwhile goal?
3. When is a time you were embodying virtuous characteristics that you admire, being the person who you want to be?
What is most interesting to you about your answers to these questions? Are there any patterns or trends that you notice? Can you find clues in these circumstances as to what constitutes your own personalized vision and definition of success? How can you do and be more like this in the future?
DEEP REFLECTIONS ON SUCCESS FOR ENTREPRENEURS BUILDING HIGH-END & LUXURY BUSINESSES
Finally, I do have some closing thoughts and reflections specific for the target audience here, which is entrepreneurs who are building and growing high-end and luxury brands. Given the nature of our professional commitments, I believe it is incredibly important for us to do this deep work, to think about what constitutes success. We are in the business of luxury, and luxury is all about reveling in success. The better that we as entrepreneurs understand what luxury can and ought to be, the better we are positioned to develop and deliver offers that are deeply, and perhaps unexpectedly, high-end.
As luxury entrepreneurs, we serve the sector that’s focused on a luxury lifestyle. For many of us, it's a question not only of serving our luxury lifestyle clients but also embodying that luxury lifestyle ourselves. So, we should think carefully about this phrase: “luxury lifestyle”
When you hear the phrase luxury lifestyle and perhaps even think about how a luxury lifestyle is represented in the media, the gorgeous images bedabbled across screens, you probably envision wealth and investments, the well-crafted products, designer fashion, watches, luxury cars, as well as those luxury experiences like traveling the world in style and comfort…
Already there that word “comfort” is telling. What exactly does (and should) that word “comfort” entail in a truly high-end, luxury offering? When we recognize that the way to live a successful, meaningful life is (as Csikszentmihalyi and flow suggest to us) to go after the goals that are difficult but worthwhile, how does that integrate with “comfort”? As human beings, we want ease and effortlessness, but we also want to grow, push, and develop ourselves. In fact, so much of the research and work on flow is precisely on this issue of the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety where we feel fully engaged, energized yet calm. There’s a challenging question of how to bring these elements together and integrate them into what could be considered a true luxury lifestyle.
As entrepreneurs in the luxury sector, we get to be the innovators. As luxury entrepreneurs, we get to be at the forefront of shaping what luxury is, what success is – showing the world what is possible through our high-end offerings. So, I do believe it really is up to us to do this deep thinking, to figure out for ourselves and for our clients - perhaps through the customized and bespoke offers that we create – just what is possible that is worth aspiring toward.
To conclude, I want to leave you with two questions:
1. What are your definitions of the concepts of “success” and “luxury living”?
2. How can you incorporate more of your unique vision of success into your business?
I will be curious to see how your high-end business grows and evolves. This is just the beginning.