Define Success to Create Success, Starting Now

Posted on 11 October 2011

“What matters is the value we’ve created in our lives, the people we’ve made happy, and how much we’ve grown as people.” ~Daisaku Ikeda

Ahhh success! It sounds so good. We all want it, but are you brave enough to define what success means to you and go for it?

Society conditions us to define success as being the best, attaining prosperity, making a lot money, or having a fancy CEO title.

I thought I had “success” ten years ago where I spent five years working on Wall Street at Credit Suisse, an investment banking firm in New York City. I started as an associate on the Corporate Bond Sales desk and was promoted to a Vice President.

I worked at the firm as a summer intern between my first and second years of business school and received a full-time offer. I remember being very hesitant about taking the job because I knew it wasn’t my passion, but I didn’t know what else I wanted to do.

It was exciting when I first stepped on the trading desk—tons of energy, noise, and people sitting less than three feet away from me on both sides. In an unexpected way, the noise faded into the background and I became used to it.

I enjoyed the job at first and how fast paced it was, but after a few years, I realized that I was not engaged on this path. I believed that there was something more for me.

It was confusing because I had a good salary, good title, and a good life, but it wasn’t fulfilling.  Many thought I was “successful” by the traditional definition, but I did not feel like I was on my true path and making a difference.

I stayed in finance for a while hoping my feelings about the role would change—they didn’t! Although I’m interested in the markets, I’m not passionate about them. I wanted to read personal development books in my free time, rather than Barron’s and Business Week.

The truth was finance, although a great path for some, wasn’t my path. This took me a while to admit. It’s powerful to face the truth! The job was draining my energy, and after a few years, I wasn’t excited to start my day.

Often the hardest thing to do is to walk away from something that is good for others but not great for you.

When I was 40 years old, I made a tough decision to change my life and leave the finance world for real. I opted for a much more fulfilling life as a Business/Life Coach, Speaker, and Author. I had to take a step into the unknown and create another career and life that felt authentic.

I love what I do now because I get to read and write about things that inspire me and help others make a difference in their life. I feel like I am making a positive contribution to the world and that makes me happy!

I only share that I was 40 because people often convince themselves that it’s too late to make a change after a certain age. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand one more day in a job that drained my energy and soul rather than inspired and refueled me.

Yes, I had some financial security in the short term, but I still needed to reinvent my life. The most important factor was that I had confidence in myself.

I believe age is just a number. Dara Torres, at the age of 41, earned a spot on the United States Olympic Swim Team and won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She proved her words that “the water doesn’t know your age…[goals] may be hard to achieve, but your dreams can’t stop because you’ve hit a certain age.”

She swam her fastest race ever in the 50-meter freestyle and set a new American record. As a result, she redefined what’s possible and changed the way we look at age.

Options are available to all of us. It’s just a matter of being honest, gaining clarity, and taking action.

Be daring—tell me what success means to you? Is it being the CEO, starting your own company, being financial independent, volunteering and helping others, having good friends, carving out time for your favorite hobby such as photography, being in shape, loving yourself, or spending time reading to your children?

I’ve met a lot of people who’ve achieved “success” but feel unfulfilled and unclear on what they believe it means to succeed.

True success is based on our personal set of beliefs, our values, and the choices we make throughout our lives. As our values and ideas shift, our definitions of success will change, as well.

Success is dynamic.

Our work is to make sure our current definition of success is aligned with the goals we pursue and the choices we make. Only some of us will take this step, but it’s available to all. 

One person may define success as being married, working for a good company, and having savings in the bank, and someone else by being healthy, making a difference, or making yourself a priority. It’s is a personal decision.

For me, success is about making a positive contribution to the world and sharing my best self.

It’s not about the $ signs. Opportunities emerged when I realized success is internal rather than about externals.

Three thoughts to help explore success:

1. Clarify what success means to you.

Go ahead—be brave, bold, and most importantly be honest with yourself. Let’s be clear, only you define what is and isn’t possible—not someone else. If we were at a dinner party and everyone had to share how they define success, what would you say?

2. Pursue goals that are both important and priorities in your life.

In his book, Open, one of the world’s greatest tennis players, Andre Agassi, talks about the first time he earned the No. 1 ranking in the world. He said that he felt empty and unfulfilled. It wasn’t until Agassi won the French Open and put his tennis earnings toward building charter schools for underprivileged children and helping others that he felt a deeper sense of fulfillment (and he met his wife Stefanie Graf).

The takeaway is that being No. 1 may equate to external success but it does not necessarily equate to fulfillment. Do your goals add meaning to your life?

3. Believe that you can achieve success (or top 1% moments) from any starting place in life.

I left a successful finance career late in life and started a new career when I was 40. I completely turned my world around and moved from New York City to Santa Monica, California and had to build both a business and a new community of friends. It’s never too late to make a positive decision and turn your ideas into action.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” What would you love to achieve in your life?

When you are ready to accept nothing less than walking on your true path to success, you will have a renewed sense of empowerment, and you will start to see new opportunities.

TOP 1% BOTTOM LINE: Success is not defined by what society or others think is right for you but by what makes you feel whole and adds meaning to your life. It’s never a comparison. Only you know what makes you smile and leaves you with a greater sense of fulfillment.

There are many definitions for success. It’s time to find yours.

Photo by JoeLodge

About Alissa Finerman

Alissa is a Business/Life Coach, speaker, and author of “Living in Your Top 1%.” She works with individuals and organizations to get meaningful results. Alissa has an MBA from the Wharton School and a BA from UC Berkeley. To learn about coaching with Alissa and to take the Living in Your Top 1% quiz, please visit AlissaFinerman.com or Alissa’s Facebook page.

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