We don’t get up in the morning asking ourselves, “What does success look like for me today?” (although, I would argue, maybe we should!?) Usually, life just happens. But there are situations in which you might choose to, or be compelled to, redefine what success means to you. There are global moments when we are forced to question the very foundations on which we are living our lives. There are also many personal moments when our situation changes and we’re prompted to ask what’s truly important. So when is it time to redefine success?
For me, there was no big crisis or pivotal moment, more like a gradual awakening. Back in 2013 – my 30th year – I was single, surrounded by friends who were getting married and starting a family. I was in a demanding corporate marketing job that felt misaligned with my values and interests. I began to question, “What do I want to be doing with my life?” The answer turned out to be, “Not this.” My experience was one of redefining success away from a traditional career path towards working for myself and creating my own path. This is what I’ve built my business on, and many of my clients do come from that corporate background.
But the truth is that redefining success in your life and career is something that you can, and should, do at key pivotal moments of your life. Let’s look at a few of them…
Time to redefine success
When you’ve achieved your goals
The first moment when you’ll want to reconsider what ‘success’ means to you is when you’ve already achieved what you thought success was. Ever the high achiever, you’ve always been highly driven and focused on getting results. You’ve climbed that corporate ladder and become the leader you aspired to be; you’ve built the business that you dreamed of when you started; you’ve got the money and the recognition that you always craved… well, now what? What’s next?
If you’ve already achieved ‘success’ as previously defined, it’s time for a new definition, a new set of goals. And, most likely, the things you’ve done to get to where you are today are not the things that will get you to that next level of, or different kind of, success, so it’s also time for a new strategy to make that new vision a reality.
When you’re paying too high a price
Sometimes, you’re on the road to achieving the success you thought you wanted – but you’re paying too high a price for it. Perhaps you’re neglecting your personal relationships as you put your work above your family and home life, or you’re sacrificing your health and wellbeing as you push yourself harder and harder. Unfortunately, many will ignore the warning signs until they’re forced to reconsider, when their marriage collapses or they experience burnout, or when they’re diagnosed with a chronic illness that’s incompatible with a traditional way of working.
Certainly, poor health is a clear message from your body that it’s time to do things differently, to redefine success in a more holistic way. At a minimum, you’ll need to define new boundaries and redefine success at work to make your work and life domains integrate more harmoniously. Most likely, you’ll need to make a more drastic shift to allow you to focus on what really matters.
When you’re entering early retirement
There are some professions where you may love what you’re doing, and you may be very successful, but you’re headed inevitably towards an early expiration date. Whether you’re retiring from professional sports or completing your years of military service – or maybe you’re just in the kind of career that’s more of a ‘young person’s game’ and it’s no longer a fit for you – you’ll still have many years left of your working life.
It may be hard to imagine fulfilment from another career if you’ve been following what was your passion, your vocation, all your adult life. However, you have an opportunity to take elements of what you loved about your first career and package up your skills and interests in a new and exciting way.
Another common scenario is when you’re approaching *actual* retirement age but you’re not yet ready to retire! Perhaps you feel that you’re becoming too expensive for your employer, you’re at risk of being manoeuvred out, and you want to be proactive about envisioning a different path. It’s important to look at building the positioning and network that will allow you continue to work on your own terms.
When you’re starting or ending a relationship
Your definition of success is personal to you, and should never be too closely entwined with someone else’s. But when you go from being single to being in a serious relationship, there is someone else’s needs and desires to consider. It’s not a question of changing all your plans and living according to someone else’s definition – but perhaps you can find a new one together, in harmony with your individual personal goals and values?
Likewise, when a relationship comes to an end and you face a separation or divorce, it’s time to redefine success once more. To take a step back and remind yourself of who you were before, and who you want to be now.
When you’re becoming a new parent or an empty nester
There are few life events that change your life so dramatically as becoming a parent. Having children creates a seismic shift in who and what you focus on and how you live your life. As with starting a relationship, you don’t want to lose your whole identity and let go of your personal goals. It’s likely, however, that your vision of the future will look a little different. The challenge is to find a way to maintain your identity as a professional and an individual, while making space for these new little beings.
At the other end of the spectrum, as your children grow up and ‘fly the nest’, a new space and new opportunities will open up for you. You get to consider what you want to do now that your children no longer need you every day. It’s time to redefine success again.
When you’ve changed your mind
You know what? Sometimes it’s time to define success, well, ‘just because’! Your definition of success is personal and you get to decide if and when you want to change it. It’s not uncommon that you suddenly discover that your previous goals are no longer meaningful to you. Your values and priorities may have evolved, you may have learned new information that puts things in a different perspective, or perhaps you’ve simply had a change of heart. Give yourself time and space to come up with a new, more relevant, definition to guide your decisions.
If you find yourself at one of these junctures – or maybe there’s a different shift happening in your life? – then it’s time to redefine success. What is it that you want, and what are you actually working towards? What does ‘success’ mean to you now?