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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own

Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own

Success is an enchanting word. It’s the magical stardust we all want to be touched by. It’s a goal on its own for many too, a motivator, a reason to wake up every day with the drive to take on the world and “have it all.”

Luckily, there is barely a shortage of advice on how you can thrive and prosper. In fact, a simple question to Google on “how to be successful” yields the impressive 815 million results.

Why is success so popular of a notion? Because it feels good to be at the top, to see your hard work pay off, to be smiled upon by the good-fate fairy. It’s a high like no other.

But every so often, success feels like a chimera more than a real thing— a lot like happiness, in fact. We talk, read and write books about it, listen to wise men and women coach us on “how to get there” or of the “habits of the ultra successful.”

And yet—it’s a tantalizing feeling—you are never completely satisfied with yourself, because there is someone who is always more “successful”—richer, more popular, better looking, has more friends.

So, how can you ever know with certainty that you have finally made it? Is there a measure of success?

Does the magnitude of your success depend on the amount of money you have in the bank, the number of friends on social media, the amount of times you have been recognized for something, your GPA score, the university were accepted into, or perhaps—how many lives you’ve changed?

The answer is that it all depends on how you define success for yourself and how you choose to measure it.

What Is Success Really?

Before we launch into exploring the above questions, let’s briefly review what the greates can tell us about the meaning of success.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the most common definition of success is:

“Favorable or desired outcome, the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”

But is there more to it than fame and money?

“In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.” —  Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

“Success isn’t how much money you have. Success is not what your position is. Success is how well you do what you do when nobody else is looking.” — John Paul DeJoria, billionaire entrepreneur

“The definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it’s going to be a great day.” — Mark Cuban, billionaire investor

“I measure success by how many people love me.” — Warren Buffet, billionaire investor.

“It is also nice to feel like you made a difference — inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.” — Bill Gates, Microsoft cofounder

What Isn’t Success

Based on the above ruminations of these truly successful people (according to society’s opinion too), success starts to shape more as an internal feeling, a sense of purpose and of fulfilment rather than the pursuit of accolades from others or a large bank account.

Although all these individuals are undoubtedly wealthy, notice that no one mentions “having millions in the bank” as a definition of success. Nor things along the lines of more followers on social media, making others envious or having an expensive lifestyle.

This is not what success is or how it should be measured.

How Success Is Measured

There are several “common” (not necessarily genuine) measures of success, by society definitions. Although we may not agree with all, accept them or even live by them, they are still worth noting:

Wealth

Money and material possessions are sadly, still a rather universal (although often very deceptive) equivalent of success. If you are rich, then you must be successful, right?

There are many flaws in this assumption which we will review a bit later, but for now, let’s say that wealth may indeed, accompany success—but it should be viewed as more of a consequence of your achievements rather than a goal in itself.

Popularity

With wealth often comes popularity. The two notions are frequently viewed as close cousins, especially when we think about famous actors, writers, or entrepreneurs.

By extension, we also have the online influencers—that is, success may sometimes be expressed by the number of the people who follow you on social media and whom you can reach and impact with your content and posts.

External vs Internal

Wealth and popularity are some of the external measures of success. They are somewhat more tangible and easier to compare.

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There is, however, a whole other universe of success definitions which are invisible, can’t be easily measured and are highly personalized.

Internal evaluators are better gauges of success, though, as they are set by us and thus—follow our own life trajectory. More on this later.

Comparisons

A very common way to know if you have “made it” is to look at your neighbour’s yard and check how you fare against them.

Comparisons are not always bad though, sometimes they can be motivating, depending on who we fare against and to what ends.

The Flawed External Measures of Success

Most of the above-mentioned measures of success—the external ones— although rather omnipresent, don’t quite work to give you a peace of mind that you are really at the top of your game.

Just think about it— how many cases have you witnessed or read about of people who appear to have it all on the outside and yet—they are deeply unhappy, insecure and depressed? And even more— why when we achieve success, say, something that we’ve strived for, the jittery feeling doesn’t last?

One reason is that success is susceptible to the so-called hedonic treadmill.[1] It’s our tendency to adjust to events in our lives rather quickly.

Studies have found that when people through major events—be it winning the lottery, getting a promotion, winning a prize— they report that their happiness doesn’t last long after winning. They feel a temporary high which wears off rather quickly.

Another interesting study has found that bronze medalist are actually much happier than the silver medalists.[2] Although counter-intuitive at first thought, according to the research, such individuals engage in “counterfactual thinking.” That is, they compare against what may have been (not winning a medal at all).

It’s all in the mind and how we perceive the world to be—winning vs. losing, success vs. failure, beautiful vs. unattractive. It’s often all in the eye of the beholder, it seems.

How to Find Your Own Success Ruler

So, an open question still remains—what if you work in, say, a charity organization or a shelter, making a modest salary but are able to help many people? Are you successful or not?

What about someone like Vincent Van Gogh who produced more than 900 paintings in his lifetime but was only able to sell one? Then, you also have Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, Stieg Larson, Oscar Wilde—all of whom were unrecognized during their lifetimes. To the world, they were far from thriving.

But what if you applied another measure?

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What if you are Van Gogh and you set a goal for yourself that you will finish one painting per month? You achieve your goal. Are you successful in finishing what you set your sight on? Absolutely.

What if you manage to produce two paintings a month instead of one. Are you successful? Of course—you overachieved.

So, it’s perhaps possible to accept that to himself Van Gogh was a successful painter. He was very productive and focused.

More importantly, though, he was very fortunate to do what he loved, it brought him fulfillment and satisfaction. It gave meaning to his life, although not any wealth or appraisal from others.

The True Measures of Success

The main reason why external measures of success are flawed is that they were created by someone else. So faring our achievements against these artificial standards means that we evaluate ourselves against a bar which someone else created for us.

Rather, doesn’t it make more sense to measure success according to our own ruler—whether we find what we do meaningful to us, whether it helps others’ lives improve and whether we have more happy memories than regrets at the end of our lives?

Research tells us that people on t heir death beds have the following regrets—have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not to others’ expectations; don’t work so hard; have the courage to express your true feelings; stay in touch with your friends; let yourself be happy.[3]

So, meaningful life and success, by extension, have nothing to do with wealth, fame, number of claps of social media, number of houses or expensive cars one has.

But they have everything to do with working on what makes us happy, with living the way it makes most sense to us and surrounding ourselves with people who bring love and warmth to our lives.

How to Evaluate Your Success the Right Way

One very important thing to grasp is that being successful doesn’t always have to be measured in tangible terms, especially not the ones created by others.

That is—make your own standards if you don’t want to be stuck in a perpetual “why-others-have-more” spinning wheel.

You will know if you’ve “made it” if:

  • You love your life in general. You have a purpose and what you do is meaningful to you.
  • You are proud of yourself for what you have accomplished so far.
  • You do something bigger than you. You touch others’ lives and make them better.
  • You have people who care about you (and you care about) with whom you share your achievements. You don’t have to advertise your victories to the whole world—just to those who will be really able to share your joy and appreciate your hard work.
  • You see progress. You are not stuck in the status quo, you are evolving and improving.

However, it may be true that you still need some external point of reference to know how you are doing. For instance, how to know how smart you are, or how good you are at math, at managing your finances, or dealing with people?

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One way to answer this is by measuring up against past precedents or to others in similar situations and settings. But external comparisons must be approached with caution—you must be carefully selective about who you weigh yourselfs against and the dimensions you elect to measure up to.

First and foremost, though, whenever possible, you must value your achievements against your past self.

Summing It All Up

The best way to measure success is to define what it means and looks like to you, and then assess your progress against these goals.

For instance, success for someone may be to publish their first book. Once you have this aspiration, break it down in smaller bite-size tasks—say, you commit to write 500 words every day. You check yourself against the aim you yourself set for you.

For another person, success may be to become a millionaire—again—figure out the steps you need to take to get there and follow through. Or perhaps you want to finish a marathon. Then commit to run every day, gradually increasing the distance.

And if you fall short, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that success may be also viewed as simply trying, moving, taking action.

Final take-aways:

  • Drive is more important than the outcome for success—or as they say, it’s about the journey as much as the destination.
  • Success may be in the eye of the beholder, but there are some universal ways to measure it—namely, through progress, fulfillment and self-pride.
  • Success doesn’t recognition from the world. If it comes, then all the better. But it’s not a pre-requisite to feel that you have accomplished what you have set out for yourself or that you have made the world a better place.
  • And let’s not forget the good-old fear of failure. It is as Stephen Richards says: “The true measure of success is how many times you can bounce back from failure.” It’s not about never experiencing a setback or a stormy day, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

If what you do makes you happy, content and motivated to achieve more, then, my friend, you are succeeding.

Or, as the great Maya Angelou beautifully said it:

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

It’s that simple, really.

More About Success

Featured photo credit: Christian Kaindl via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

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Last Updated on September 24, 2020

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life

The world of productivity has several hacks or tricks to help you manage your time: to-do lists, the Pomodoro Technique, Parkinson’s Law… All of these strategies are great strategies in their own way, but one strategy stands above all the others: the 80 20 rule.

This particular strategy has been used the most and is regarded as the most helpful in developing time management and other concepts in life.

But what’s so special about this rule? How does it give you success and how do you use it? Let’s explore the specifics.

What Is the 80 20 Rule?

Many people regard this rule as the 80 20 rule, but it has a proper name: the Pareto Principle[1]. The principle was named after its founder,  the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, in 1895. Pareto noticed that people in society were divided into two categories:

  • The “vital few,” which consisted of the top 20 percent with respect to money and influence.
  • The “trivial many,” otherwise known as the bottom 80 percent.

As he researched this further, he came to discover that this divide didn’t apply only to money and influence, but other areas, too. Virtually all economic activity was subject to his previous observation.

He observed that 80% of Italy’s wealth at the time was controlled by only 20% of the population.

Since the development of this rule, humankind has used this particular ratio in all kinds of situations. Even if the ratio isn’t always exact, we see this rule applied in many industries and in life. Examples are:

  • 20% of sales reps will generate 80% of your total sales.
  • 20% of customers account for 80% of total profits.
  • 80% of the revenue will stem from 20% of the workers.

Either way, I’m sure you can piece together why people call this rule the 80 20 rule over Pareto’s Principle[2].

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Make Your Life and Your Business More Efficient with the 80-20 Rule - Salesforce Canada Blog

    In terms of how this particular rule will be able to work for you, it’s a matter of applying this rule to how you spend your time. For us to see success, the goal is simple.

    We need to set it up in such a way that 20% of our input is responsible for 80% of our results.

    Another way to think about it is we use 20% of our time on activities that give us 80% of our results in a given area of life.

    How Does the 80 20 Rule Work?

    To best explain this, let’s visualize a bit.

    In an ideal world:

    • Every employee would contribute the same amount of effort to work.
    • Every feature that’s released for an app or product would be equally loved by users.
    • Each business idea you come up with would be a hit.

    In that scenario, planning would be a breeze. There wouldn’t be any need to analyze anything so long as you put in the effort.

    But that’s not reality.

    Yes, the effort is certainly an element, but what the 80 20 principle states is that everything is unequal. Invest in 10 start-up companies, and you’ll find only a few will pass year two and make it big. You’re in a team of five, and there’ll be one person doing more work than others.

    We wish our lives were always one-for-one in terms of input and output, but that’s simply not true. Understanding this is key to understanding how the 80 20 rule really works.

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    So how does it really work?

    It’s a matter of focusing on what’s giving you the most in your life for little of your time.

    Going back to the few examples I’ve presented above, consider this:

    • If two start-ups you invested in are making it big, focus on having a more direct hand, and see if you can help them prosper more.
    • If 20% of sales reps are giving you 80% of your sales, focus on rewarding those and keeping their spirits high and motivated.

    These scenarios can go on and on, but the idea is to place your efforts on the 20% that is actually making the difference in your life. Another term that’s good to know is the diminishing marginal utility[3].

    Pareto didn’t come up with this one, but the law goes as follows: each extra hour of effort or worker will add less “oomph” to your finished results.

    Eventually, you’ll hit a point where you will spend a lot of time on small and unimportant details, similar to perfectionism.

    So before hitting that point, you want to have a laser focus on the most important details, from family and relationships to your work or business. Prioritize the activities that are going to move you forward the most, and be wary of adding extra time, effort, or more hands into those particular tasks moving forward.

    How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule

    So now that you have an understanding of the 80 20 rule and how it works, what is the best way to take advantage of it?

    Depending on where you are applying this rule, this can be used in all kinds of fashions.

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    For example, you can apply this rule to goal setting, as demonstrated by Brian Tracy in this video:

    Or you can apply it in terms of general productivity as explained in this article: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

    The core of this rule is that it forces us to ask ourselves the questions we wouldn’t consider otherwise. It helps us to place our focus in the right places with regards to all things in life.

    In short, the 80 20 rule places us in charge of our lives and helps us set out on our goals and dreams. With this in mind, here are some things you can consider concerning this rule.

    1. Focus on Your Big Tasks First

    While this is the essence of the 80 20 rule, it’s still worth mentioning. Why? Because so many of us feel intimidated by the biggest task. We instinctively avoid it and opt for smaller tasks first.

    We think that if we complete enough small tasks that we will feel motivated to finish that really big one later. But that’s really false hope at work.

    Once we finish off a lot of small tasks, we either feel drained, or we tell ourselves we’ll do this the next day.

    Instead of doing all that, bite the bullet and tackle the largest task first.

    If you need help with prioritization, check out this article.

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    I argue this by challenging you to ask yourself this one question:

    “Is the task I’m about to do the top 20 percent of my activities or the bottom 80 percent?”

    I’m sure you’ve seen time and again you or other workers spending a lot of time on one task for most of the day. In those kinds of grinds, you’re barely getting ahead and have next to nothing to show for it. That’s because they’re putting all their attention on work that’s in the 80 percent.

    It’s normally the big tasks that are part of the 20 percent.

    Another way to think about this is that everything we do starts a habit. If every day we spend our energy on low-value tasks, we will always prioritize those.

    2. Stretch This Into Personal Life

    While I’ve been talking about business and setting goals, remember you can use this in other areas of your life, too.

    Take your personal life and ask yourself some of these questions:

    • How much TV do you watch on a regular basis? What sort of shows are you legitimately into? These questions can help you in recognizing what shows you are watching purely for consumption. By applying the 80 20 rule, you can cut back on Netflix, TV, or YouTube video consumption and prioritize other areas of your life.
    • What does your wardrobe look like in terms of colors? Are there specific colors that you like? Knowing what you wear most times will help you in sorting out your wardrobe significantly. It also saves you time to come up with what to wear every morning.
    • How many newsletters do you actually read? This question can help you in figuring out which newsletters to unsubscribe to and can clear up a lot of space in your inbox. It can also relieve pressure from having to check your emails constantly.
    • How much time do you spend on your phone every day? How much of that time is actually doing something meaningful? These questions can help you in clearing out various apps that aren’t helping you with your goals. In fact, this can curb the need to check your phone constantly.

    Final Thoughts

    The 80 20 rule is the productivity hack that many of us need, and for good reason. As you can tell, it’ll help you to focus and prioritize the more important aspects of your life.

    Not only that, but it’ll maximize those outputs at the same time and ensure you’re not spending too much time working on them. All you need to do is start asking questions and taking action.

    More Techniques to Help You Succeed in Life

    Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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