What if we decided to turn the traditional definition of success on its head?

Yesterday, I had a very interesting conversation about the traditional definition of success. The person I was talking to very cleverly referenced the Harry Potter houses to illustrate the different definitions of success they see in the world today. Kudos to them for grabbing my attention using a HP reference!

  • Ravenclaw: Knowledge & Intellect
  • Slytherin: Power & Wealth
  • Gryffindor: Bravery & Recognition
  • Hufflepuff: Kindness & Modesty

Seems about right. But let’s back up just a little bit first.

What got me thinking about my definition of success in the first place, was a comment from my therapist: “when you achieve what your definition of success is again…” (I heard the undertone there, my definition of success, which clearly is a skewed one). She’s known me 10 years, so she must have a good idea about how hard I can be on myself. I have to take her comments on the chin, because I not only respect her opinion greatly, but, even when I disagree, she’s usually right.

Traditionally, a lot of us have been raised to believe that success is based on the Slytherin and Gryffindor mentalities. How much power and influence do you have? How wealthy are you? What is your job title? How famous are you? How many followers do you have? These are all outward indicators where your success is dependent on external factors. An ego driven mentality, in fact.

I’m not here to bullshit you and claim that these have never influenced my decisions: career or otherwise. These are all things that have been important to me in the past. It’s inherent really, when you’re raised in a household of high achievers and you also like to set very unrealistic goals and expectations of yourself. But what if I made an active decision to change my definition of success? What if we decided that we wanted to turn the traditional definition of success on its head?

I’ve always thought of success as something static or ‘black and white’: you either have it, or you don’t, there’s no in-between. I’ve had a very interesting career so far, with high profile jobs, big projects and earning many awards along the way. But have I ever felt successful? No.

I’ve never felt like I was earning enough, or being recognized enough, even when accepting awards for my work. Ridiculous yes, but even recently when I finished a short story for a competition, it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to then turn my focus to the next competition. I didn’t enjoy the moment, enjoy the success of completing something. I was on autopilot, because it “isn’t about getting it done, it’s about getting recognized for it”. What a load a BS!

As you can probably tell, this topic is something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about in recent weeks, and it’s something that I’m trying to address so I can approach life with a different view of what success means to me, especially as I get more settled into my thirties. I began by asking myself what I would do if I had one week to live. Literally, if I found out I would be dead next week this time, how would I spend my week? The answer gave me a sense of what is important to me, and what I would want to do to be considered a worthwhile contributor to society and the world as a whole. While I may delve into those specifics at a later date, I wanted to share what I have subsequently set out as new areas of “success” for myself. Perhaps this encourages you to do the same, and take on the same challenge of defining what success is to you at this stage.

At 31, success to me is:

  • Expanding my general knowledge.
  • Contributing to the success of others. Being a part of the journey of others (in a non-public facing way). I’ve always drawn a lot of strength from this.
  • Learning more about human psychology. I did a semester of psychology after university and I’d like to explore further studies in this field in future.
  • Safety in my relationships: friendships, family and in my heart partnership. Consistency too.
  • Focus. One of the hardest things for a self employed person to do!
  • Travelling to learn and gain perspective, not for recreational purposes.
  • Practicing my writing, specifically prose. Learning more about how to improve my writing. Writing to contribute, not simply for money or recognition. Putting other creative projects on hold to grow in this area.
  • The amount of time in my day that I’m free to do what I want with my time. This includes committing to the entrepreneurial and writer’s journey, regardless of external recognition or opportunities that may come from it. This one is very important. Essentially, I feel successful if I can choose what I do with my 24 hours. That doesn’t mean I get to be a lazy sack of potatoes on a beach all day. It means having the freedom to decide what I do with my time, which 99% of the population does not have the luxury of doing.

Looking at these, I now have a clearer set of parameters and goals to work towards for a renewed interpretation of success, rather than continuing to focus on the traditional view (and making myself unnecessarily unhappy). Frankly, looking at this means that I’m pretty damn successful already! Let’s call a spade a spade. I am doing these things to the best of my ability, so I should pat myself on the back for that.

Perhaps, the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff approaches are not as lame as they’ve been made out to be by others (well, myself included). I’m thankful for a bit of clarity around the matter. I’m sure my definition of success will keep changing as my goals adapt and adjust; this is something that many people I have spoken to over the years have echoed and I believe it to be true. Let’s see how this goes for a little while, and try not to get too far ahead of ourselves (and the rest of our day today).

– Conrad was here.

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