What does success mean to you?

Updated: Sep 26, 2019


I was privileged last week to be a panel member in the Women in Mining South Africa's (WIMSA) discussion on "Saying YES to Success". Ahead of the session, we were asked to prepare about 15 minutes on how we had succeeded in life and our careers and give some words of wisdom to the young women in attendance.

That all sounded lovely when I received the invitation, but when I was preparing the day ahead, I was not feeling even slightly successful.

Quite honestly what I wanted to do was hide under my duvet and pretend the world didn't exist. I expect all of you know what I am talking about - because let’s be honest we have all been where I was - wanting to hide away from the world. We all have bad days and weeks where we feel down, we feel like imposters, we feel like just giving up, where we feel like a failure.

But it made me realise that by and large, success for me is about persevering when things get difficult, course correcting and finding workarounds when things block your way, and being resilient to failure. More importantly that success for me is about connecting with others, making a positive contribution towards the development of young leaders, and having conversations that raise curiosity, reframe perspective and help young professionals have lives and careers that are intentional and purposeful. And I say "for me" because this is a definition of success that applies to me, based on what I value and what I want to achieve in my life - to suggest that others should have the same definition would be inappropriate.

In the past, I admit that to some extent I may have measured myself by the yardstick of how much money I earned, my title, and the car that I drove. But as I reached each of those events in my life, the sparkle of success was momentary, and then there was a need to go on to achieve another thing before feeling like a true success.

I thought I would be a success if X happened, and when that happened, I thought I would be a success if Y happened.

If! If! If! If!

David Brooks, in his TEDTalk calls this "living for your CV", in other words striving for goals that build your CV. He suggests that within each of us are two selves:

  • the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, who savours career accomplishment, who favours success in the market place, who celebrate material success, and

  • the self who seeks connection, community, love - the values that make for a great eulogy.

These two selves are constantly in a battle with each other as somewhat opposing forces.

Alain de Botton suggests that envy, comparison and the modern day belief that everyone can do anything, contribute to the ongoing desire to strive to build one's CV and focus on extrinsic measures of success. However, he also explains the corollary to this meritorious approach to life - i.e. that failure to achieve "CV success" is something that is unforgivable and worthy of ridicule and judgement. This, in turn, has the potential to exacerbate the fear of failure, and the fear of trying, in case we fail).

There is a collection of TEDtalks that discuss the topic of success. The introduction to this collection of talks says

"Success can mean: feeling that tingle of excitement about what you do, sticking with what matters through hard times, living a life you can feel proud of in retrospect".

Somehow these words ring far more true to me with regards saying YES to success. A year and a half ago I said yes to myself. After 18 years of striving to get to the top of the food chain in my career, I gave up my career, my position, my title, my salary, and started over from scratch in an entirely new profession, one that gives me the opportunity each day to connect with others, to have bold conversations with young professionals and to help raise the level of awareness and curiosity that young professionals have about their lives and their careers.

So I want to offer the following lessons that I have learned in the last 18 months that I feel have contributed to my success:

  • take a leap of faith on yourself and have trust in your gut feelings - if something doesn't feel right, get curious about it, so that you can figure out your way forward,

  • accept that you will fail at things - it's ok - fail forward and use this as an opportunity to learn and grow,

  • take time to reflect on where you are, what you value, where you want to go and what you are doing about getting there.

  • look for ways to work around the obstacles in your path - there will always be obstacles, so having alternative pathways to your goals is an important strategy in your success,

  • create and nourish connections with mentors and sponsors who have experience in the areas you want to grow, and share your values and can challenge you in how to your goals,

  • develop and nurture a love of learning - learn new things and deepen your competencies so that you can remain agile and flexible in how you say yes to success,

  • get curious about how you define success - are your metrics of success based on what society says? what others think? what you have been told is right? Or are they based on what is intrinsically important and meaningful to you?

I agree with Alain de Botton when he says we need to be the authors of our own ambition and truly own our definition of success rather than being defined by what we have been socialised to believe.

I challenge you to be curious about your assumptions of what success is and to define measures of success that are meaningful to you.

I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.

I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself.

I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.

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