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Published on October 15, 2018

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 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.

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.

How to Improve Your Self-Control and Live Your Dream Life Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It) What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It Midlife Crisis for Women: How a Midlife Crisis Makes You a Better Person

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Last Updated on September 17, 2019

How to Delegate Work Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Delegate Work Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

All managers and leaders must master the art of delegation. Understanding how and when to allocate responsibility to others is essential in maintaining a high level of productivity, both on a personal and organizational level. Knowing how to delegate is also essential for an effective leadership.

To learn how to delegate is to build a cohesive and effective team who can meet deadlines. Moreover, knowing when and how to delegate work will reduce your workload, thus improving your wellbeing at work and boosting your job satisfaction. Unfortunately, many leaders are unsure how to delegate properly or are hesitant to do so.

In this guide, you will discover what delegation really entails, how it benefits your team, and how to delegate work effectively.

The Importance of Delegation

An effective leader knows how to delegate. When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more on a daily basis. Effective delegation also promotes productivity within a team by drawing on the existing skill set of its members and allowing them to develop new knowledge and competencies along the way. The result is a more flexible team that can share roles when the need arises.[1]

When you are willing to delegate, you are promoting an atmosphere of confidence and trust. Your actions send a clear signal: as a leader, you trust your subordinates to achieve desired outcomes. As a result, they will come to think of you as a likeable and efficient leader who respects their skills and needs.

Delegation isn’t about barking orders and hoping that your staff falls in line. A manager’s job is to get the very best from those under their supervision and in doing so, maximizing productivity and profit.[2]

Here’s an example of bad delegation:

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    Careful delegation helps to identify and capitalize on the unique strengths and weaknesses of the team members. Delegation also boosts employees’ engagement as it proves that the managers are interested in drawing on their talents.[3]

    The Fear of Delegating Tasks

    Delegation boosts productivity, but not all managers are willing or able to delegate.[4] Why? Here’re some common reasons:[5]

    • They may resent the idea that someone else may get the credit for a project.
    • They may be willing to delegate in principle but are afraid their team won’t be able to handle an increased degree of responsibility.
    • They may suspect that their staff is already overworked, and feel reluctant to increase their burden.
    • They may suspect that it’s simpler and quicker just to do a task themselves.
    • They dislike the idea of letting go of tasks they enjoy doing.
    • They fear that if they delegate responsibility, their own manager will conclude that they can’t handle their workload.

    Delegation vs Allocation

    Most people think that delegation and allocation are synonymous, but there is an important distinction to be made between the two.[6]

    When you allocate a task, you are merely instructing a subordinate to carry out a specific action. You tell them what to do, and they do it–it’s that simple. On the other hand, delegation involves transferring some of your own work to another person. They do not just receive a set of instructions. Rather, they are placed in a role that requires that they make decisions and are held accountable for outcomes.[7]

    How to Delegate Work Effectively (A Step-By-Step Guide)

    So what’s the best way to delegate work so you can fight the fear of delegation, build an efficient team and work faster? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

    1. Know When to Delegate

    By understanding how much control you need to maintain over a situation, you can determine the best strategy for empowering workers. There are 7 levels of delegation that offer workers different degrees of responsibility.

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    This brief video explains these levels and offers examples of when it’s appropriate to use each one:

    Delegation occurs along a spectrum. The lowest level of delegation happens when you tell other people what to do. It offers little opportunity for employees to try new approaches. The most empowering form of delegation occurs when you are able to give up most of your control over the project to the employee.

    Knowing how to delegate work helps you understand how to connect people with tasks that make the best use of their talents. When done properly, it ensures that you will get the best end-result.[8]

    When you’re deciding how to delegate work, ask the following questions:

    • Do you have to be in charge of this task, or can someone else pull it off?
    • Does this require your attention to be successful?
    • Will this work help an employee develop their skills?
    • Do you have time to teach someone how to do this job?
    • Do you expect tasks of this nature to recur in the future?

    2. Identify the Best Person for the Job

    You have to pass the torch to the right team member for delegation to work. Your goal is to create a situation in which you, your company, and the employee have a positive experience.

    Think about team members’ skills, willingness to learn, and their working styles and interests. They’ll be able to carry out the work more effectively if they’re capable, coachable, and interested. When possible, give an employee a chance to play to their strengths.

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    Inexperienced workers may need more guidance than seasoned veterans. If you don’t have the time to set the newer employee up for success, it’s not fair to delegate to them.

    You also have to consider how busy your employees are. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm someone by giving them too many responsibilities.

    3. Tell and Sell to Get the Member Buy-In

    After you’ve found the perfect person for the job, you still have to get them to take on the new responsibility. Let them know why you chose them for the job. [9] When you show others that you support their growth, it builds a culture of trust. Employees who see delegated tasks as opportunities are more likely to be invested in the outcome.

    When you’re working with newer employees, express your willingness to provide ongoing support and feedback. For seasoned employees, take their thoughts and experiences into account.

    4. Be Clear and Specific About the Work

    It’s critical to explain to employees why the project is necessary, what you expect of them, and when it’s due.[10] If they know what you expect, they’ll be more likely to deliver.

    By setting clear expectations, you help them plan how to carry out the task. Set up project milestones so that you can check progress without micromanaging. If your employee has trouble meeting a milestone, they still have time to course correct before the final product is due.

    This type of accountability is commonly used in universities. If students only know the due date and basic requirements for completing major research papers, they might put off the work until the eleventh hour. Many programs require students to meet with advisers weekly to get guidance, address structure, and work out kinks in their methods in advance of deadlines. These measures set students up to succeed while giving them the space to produce great work.

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    5. Support Your Employees

    To see the best possible outcomes of delegating, your subordinates need resources and support from you. Connect them with training and materials to develop skillsets they don’t already have.[11] It may take more time up front to make resources available, but you’ll save time by having the work done correctly. For recurring tasks, this training pays off repeatedly.

    Sometimes employees need a help to see what they’re doing well and how they can improve. Giving and receiving feedback is an essential part of delegation. This is also a good way to monitor the delegated tasks as a leader. While you can keep track of the progress of the tasks, you are not micro-managing the employees.

    Throughout the project, periodically ask your employees if they need support or clarification. Make it clear that you trust them to do the work, and you want to create a space for them to ask questions and offer feedback. This feedback will help you refine the way you delegate work.

    6. Show Your Appreciation

    During periodic check-ins, recognize any wins that you’ve seen on the project so far. Acknowledge that your employees are making progress toward the objective. The Progress Principle lays out how important it is to celebrate small wins to keep employees motivated.[12] Workers will be more effective and dedicated if they know that you notice their efforts.

    Recognizing employees when they do well helps them understand the quality of work you expect. It makes them more likely to want to work with you again on future projects.

    Bottom Line

    Now that you know exactly what delegation means and the techniques to delegate work efficiently, you are in a great position to streamline your tasks and drive productivity in your team.

    To delegate is to grant autonomy and authority to someone else, thus lightening your own workload and building a well-rounded, well-utilized team.

    Delegation might seem complicated or scary, but it gets much easier with time. Start small by delegating a couple of decisions to members of your team over the next week or two.

    More About Delegation

    Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

    Reference

    [1] BOS Staffing: 5 Benefits Of Delegation – Empower Your Team
    [2] Brian Tracy International: How to Delegate The Right Tasks To The Right People: Effective Management Skills For Leadership Success
    [3] MindTools: Successful Delegation: Using The Power Of Other People’s Help
    [4] Fast Company: The Three Most Common Fears About Delegation: Debunked
    [5] Leadership Skills Training: Delegation
    [6] Abhinav Jain: Delegation of work vs Allocation of work
    [7] Anthony Donovan: Management Training: Delegating Effectively
    [8] Management 3.0: Practice: Delegation Board
    [9] Focus: The Creativity and Productivity Blog: A Guide to Delegating Tasks Effectively
    [10] Inc.: 6 Ways to Delegate More Effectively
    [11] The Muse: The 10 Rules of Successful Delegation
    [12] Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer: The Progress Principle

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