A friend recently asked me a question. Then told me not to answer.
We were discussing another business venture I was embarking on because I'm always embarking on something. Since he was joining me for this voyage, we needed to go through our next steps. Then he stopped mid-sentence.
"Before we can go any further, I need to know what you call success."
I could Merriam-Webster it for him, if he wanted.
"What's your definition of success?" he clarified. "Before we can start this, I need to know how you define it." Then he told me not to answer. "Just think about it. You need to spend time on it because how can you know you've achieved it until you've clearly defined it?"
I started to say, 'I'll just feel it,' but stopped myself before sounding like a millennial.
Hungry Is As Hungry Does
When I asked him for an example of what he meant, he told me about his dad.
An entrepreneur, too, his father worked for himself for one major reason: he wanted to eat lunch when he was hungry. While most companies established the lunch break between noon and 1 pm, his dad said he wasn't always hungry between noon and 1 pm.
"'What if I'm hungry at 11?' Dad said. 'Or 1:30?' He didn't want it dictated to him when he had to eat. He wanted the freedom to eat when he was hungry and not eat when he wasn't. Having that freedom, for him, was success."
Thinking Outside the Clock
For me, the definition came down to time. Not books sold. Not money made. Not recognition. Just time, oddly enough.
What I didn't want was to spend it in unnecessary meetings, obligatory luncheons, and seeking dust-collecting awards. I'm not a schmoozer. I don't need applause. I don't care if anyone knows my name, unless they want to buy my book. Then I want it tattooed inside their eyelids.
What I did want was to spend my time with the people in my life, to write entertaining/witty/thought-provoking stories, and to work on projects for organizations with eternal value. To do that meant I needed to have control over my time.
Control over my time = success
It also meant I could eat only when I was hungry.
A Life By Any Other Name
Even though we try to avoid it, we often define our success according to cultural or family expectations. We never stop to put our own definition to it because the world has already done the hard work and defined it for us.
We've been convinced that happiness doesn't come until we...make a specific yearly salary...hold a prestigious title...receive peer recognition...live in a certain neighborhood...follow all the fashion fads...vacation in certain destinations...exude a predetermined beauty standard...have a recognizable name...and so on.
We're often chasing after a success that, once caught, we may not even want.
No wonder some of the richest, most famous among us are also the most miserable. They've achieved "success." And to fully embrace all that happiness, they self-medicate to get through the day.
Your Private Award's Ceremony
I realized what the majority of the world viewed as success, I did not. So I've stopped seeking it.
Maybe it's that way for you, too. You may not even realize you're desperately working for something that, once achieved, you won't want. Or maybe not. But we don't know until we take the time to define success for ourselves.
And, in the end, your definition might surprise you. In fact, you may discover what I did. That success was something I'd already achieved.