what is success to you?

12/03/2009

by anne lueneburger

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

I just spent an hour at La Guardia, waiting to board a flight to Chicago. I had brought my laptop to work on a proposal, but found myself distracted by the frenzy around me.  The lady next to me was waiting to fly back after a meeting with one of her key accounts in Manhattan. She was a senior marketing exec with Abbott Labs; we got talking and she wanted to know more about what I do, I explained and her first question was:

But, what does success in a ‘north of neutral world’ mean?

Good question!  I explained to her that ‘north of neutral’ equates to life beyond ’good enough’… Life that exceeds ‘acceptable’.

But, she asked, “what makes it more than good enough, and how do you define success in this context?”

In a north of neutral world, you find success through utilizing your strengths and enjoying what you do: your career in particular and life in general are both meaningful and fulfilling for you, and you feel optimistic about your future.

Your ‘True North’ however, may look very different from what society commonly defines as success…  People have different expectations and means of measuring their success: some want financial success, others to be referenced in reputable publications or achieve a high-profile promotion.

As Harvard professor, Joseph Badaracco, writes in his book on leadership Questions of Character:”The basic problem with the flow of success is that life can look very good when it really isn’t.” He goes on to describe how executives and leaders can become victims of their achievements or celebrity standards through essentially becoming actors in a role created by their inner critic, their peers or by society at large: “we learn the ways in which success works as a psychological and emotional anesthetic. Its victims don’t know their inner lives have shriveled and their healthy instincts have grown dull.”

In order to define what success and a True North life looks like for you, take a step back from everyday pressures and from the seductive concept of success as it is generally defined. Take your own pulse: what are your strengths and your talents? What do you look forward to doing most? What roles or responsibilities feel most authentic to you? And, what do you want your legacy to be?

Once you’ve done this: you have taken the first step towards making success your own.

And the good news is that all it takes is time to think – maybe next time you’re waiting for a flight?!

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