How Do You Define Success?

Most people define success the way many power people define it because that’s the definition most of society measures by. Your definition of success shouldn’t be determined by what people in power say it should be, but rather it should be defined by the person you are and what you value most. You might just find you are more successful than you thought.

All humans have the same five basic needs of Safety & Security, Connection, Significance, Freedom and Joy. However, they are configured differently in each of us, creating your own need-strength profile. How much of each need you require is based on two things: the genetic size of each of your needs, which remains relatively fixed throughout your life and your ability to meet those needs based on the circumstances of your life.

Should you have high needs that are unmet, you will feel that deficit painfully, and focus on ways to meet those needs. When your highest needs are satisfied, you will find yourself concentrating on the lesser important, unsatisfied needs. What feels most important to you at any given time has to do with how important that need is for you and how well-met it is.

When defining success, a large portion of the world has adopted the success definition of people with a high need for significance. These are people who want to make a difference, be in control and lead others. Their level of success if typically defined by the size of their bank accounts and assets, their notoriety and their level of recognition as an expert at what they do. When people without a high need for significance measure their success, they often feel lacking if they haven’t met those markers.

But should those goalposts define everyone’s level of success? I say no. Let’s look at each need individually.

Everyone has all five of these needs in their genetic makeup. We know from Maslow that when a person’s survival or Safety & Security need is not met, it’s challenging to focus on other things. Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, talked about how Motivation 1.0 was about money for those people who didn’t have enough of it to feel safe and secure. What I am about to say pertains to people who have at least enough money to satisfy their daily needs.

Barring that, you may still be a person with a high need for Safety & Security, which could translate into needing more than your average person to feel safe and secure. Your definition of success might be having enough to not have to worry about bills or long-term threats to your security. You would prefer a diverse portfolio because that provides the least risk. You would want to have money, but not for the same reason as the Significance person. Rather than using it as a gage of success, money for you would represent security. You would likely keep that hidden from others and not live extravagantly. Having enough to provide for the important people in your life would be your measure of success.

People with high needs for Significance want to make a difference, lead and control things around them. They like being in charge. They often see life as a competition and want to be the best. This might translate into being the best athlete in a particular sport, the best in their field or having the most impact on something. It often also translates into having the biggest bank account, extravagant things and living life as a financial success.

When your highest need is Connection, you might want to define success differently. To you, success might look like having the relationships you want in your life. This might translate into a big influential network on the job, or it could mean friends and relatives in your personal life that are supportive and encouraging. When you compare your bank account with someone with high Significance, you might find yourself lacking but when you focus on what’s most important to you, you realize you may be experiencing greater success than the Significance person by your standards.

Should you have a high need for Freedom, your definition of success my involve the extent to which you are able to use your creativity, maintain your level of independence and be able to do what you want, when you want, free of external restrictions. This might manifest itself in traveling and doing other things without having to pay for it. Living alone might be your success, even having a job where you are paid to push the envelope, question procedures and color outside the box.

If Joy is your biggest need, your idea of success would be great work/life balance coming out in favor of life, not work. Success to you might be having the discretionary time to enjoy yourself. It’s perfect if you experience joy at work but in the absence of that, you will value lots of free time to engage in your hobbies or whatever moves you at the time that seems like fun or relaxation.

Stop comparing your life to the Significance definition of success. Know that depending on your unique need-strength profile you will value different things, causing your vision of success to be different from the standard one. Examine what you value and what success truly means to you. You might find you have greater success than you originally thought.

When you are measuring yourself with a faulty ruler, you will feel dissatisfied. Be sure you’re using the proper ruler for you.

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