In the end, the questions you ask of yourself
determine the type of person you become.
If you’re human, you’ve shared in the experience of seeking validation.
It may be a simmering, subconscious compulsion – to get promoted, to get another degree, to lift a heavier weight or do a harder yoga pose – to be more, in some way, than you are now.
Or maybe you’re on the front lines of your battle for self-worth, constantly questioning yourself. “Do I have a right to her love? Surely she’ll leave me.” “Am I good enough to let my voice be heard at this meeting? I’d better defer to my colleagues.”
Whatever your striving for validation looks like, you are not alone. Renowned social psychology researcher Albert Bandura showed that we’re constantly comparing ourselves against others and making decisions accordingly.
This is a smart strategy from an evolutionary perspective – fitting in is a good way to survive.
But we’re no longer trying simply to survive. The luxury and curse of our era is that we can do virtually anything we want with our lives.
And in this world of possibility, you are leaving your greatest potential unfulfilled by letting others define what success means for you.
When I look around at my peers, I see brilliant people who are changing the world: doctors, lawyers, humanitarian sector workers, blossoming corporate champions, entrepreneurs, etc.
My friends are awesome, but if I tried to define my own success by comparing myself to them, I’d feel terrible.
I know this because I’ve done it.
In my early 20s, I worried that I wasn’t good at picking up girls at the bar. As foolish as that sounds, I kept trying because I saw friends do it and let it become a measure of my worth.
More comparisons followed. Could I hack it as a management consultant? Could I get into a top business school? These were self-imposed tests that I wasn’t even aware of while they were happening.
I went through years of experimentation and self-doubt in order to cultivate the resolve that I now have about my path.
I still find immense value in different perspectives and love to hear about the journeys my friends are on, but I also know that I have my own journey.
The most important step for me was finally becoming aware that I was making comparisons, and deciding to create my own, different measures of success.
Where in your life are you making these damaging comparisons?
One Simple Question: How Do You Define Success?
Many people achieve the outward trappings of success without ever reflecting on what really matters to them. They are like racehorses with blinders on their eyes, galloping around a track, trying to “win.”
Taking these blinders off can be bewildering. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the totality of your free will, you have experienced this.
Meet that bewildering freedom by asking yourself one fundamental question: What does success mean to me?
Have you ever honestly asked yourself this question? Or have you simply adopted your priorities from everyone around you?
Are you crystal clear on what success means for you?
Here are a six ways you could measure success:
- Are you a Fortune 500 CEO, or in line to become one?
- Have you won any political campaigns?
- Have you won any international athletic competitions? Do you hold any world records?
- Have you won a Grammy Award? A Nobel Prize?
- Do people turn their heads when they see your car?
- Does your smartphone contacts database have more than 10 celebrities in it?
Here are a six other ways you could measure success:
- Have you dropped everything to help a friend in need?
- Did you do any favors today for complete strangers?
- Have you recently listened to someone else’s story without talking about yourself?
- Have you spoken up against friends, family and authority figures that were in the wrong by their words or actions? Even when it was hard to do so?
- Have you kept silent when you knew you were right, knowing that an argument would be useless?
- Have you been patient, compassionate, and gentle toward those who have wronged you?
The point is not that one measure of success is any better or worse than another.
The point is that you get to choose how you define it for yourself.
Simply recognize that the more conscious and deliberate you can be about what success means for YOU, the more empowered you will be to pursue the path that’s true for you.
How do you define success? What would make you successful in your own mind? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Christopher Mueller