Published on December 7, 2020

The Secret to Success: Defining Success on Your Own Term

The Secret to Success: Defining Success on Your Own Term

Whether we admit it or not, we all want to know the secrets to success. We want to uncover the things that are going to help us achieve our goals—whether they’re in work, finances, our relationships, or even our own happiness.

It’s why self-help and productivity book sales have nearly doubled since 2013.[1] It’s why autobiographies and memoirs have surged 42% in the last year alone.[2] We want to study the habits of highly successful people. We want to know what it was that got them to where they were.

And, depending on the book we pick up, there are infinite answers—networking, investments, morning routines, a positive mindset, or the courage to take risks.

With all of the different—and often conflicting—information out there about the secrets to success, how do we actually know what will work for us, specifically? How do we know whose advice to follow or what actions to take?

Is it possible that we have our own personalized blueprint for success? And, rather than blindly follow someone else’s guidance, can we just tap into our own?

Here’s how to discover the real secret to success—on your own terms.

What Are Your Metrics to Success?

A key part of the secret to success is knowing your end goal. It’s impossible to get anywhere if we don’t have a planned destination in mind. Otherwise, we’re just mindlessly driving, hoping that we’ll magically arrive somewhere we want to be.

So, it’s impossible to have a conversation about success without the end goal and metrics in mind. How else will you know if you’re on track to reach your version of success or if you need to course-correct? And how else will you know when you get there?


Success, itself, just means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”[3] Therefore, if we don’t have an aim or purpose, it’s impossible to be successful. We can’t achieve success if we don’t define it first. The definition can give us clues on how to go about achieving it.

For example, if I aim to relax on my day off, then mindlessly watching TV might be seen as successful—but if I aim to get a lot accomplished, not so much.

Or, if I aim to spend quality time with my family today, maybe putting off that back-burner work project until tomorrow is the most successful thing I can do.

Life is all about decisions. You are choosing one path over another. You’re sacrificing one thing to get something else. You might sacrifice a night of partying to study for a test. You might sacrifice that vacation with friends to save up some money. Or, you might sacrifice watching TV tonight to finish that work project.

But you can’t make the decisions of what to choose if you don’t know what success looks like. And you can’t know what success looks like if you don’t know what’s important to you.

Success Is About Values

The first secret to success is first knowing what it is about. We measure what’s important to us. I rarely ever remember what my friend ate during our lunch together, but I definitely remember how meaningful our conversation was.

There are infinite things to measure in any given moment. So, what we choose to measure is important because it tells us if we were successful or not. And we’re consistently going to measure what we value in life.

In fact, the life we lead is largely a reflection of our decisions and values. If we consistently choose other people over ourselves, our lives will reflect that. If we consistently choose work over family, our lives will reflect that, too.


Our values dictate our actions. They tell us if we’re actually successful in what we’re really after or not, and then how to course-correct. And that means it’s impossible to achieve any form of success without knowing our values.

If I get a promotion that’s only a little bit more money but a lot more time on the road, and I really value quality time with family, is that promotion really a success for me? If I have tons of fun plans but really value free time for myself, are those plans really a success for me?

Regardless of what the “objective metrics of success” out there say, if something doesn’t align with our values, then it doesn’t measure up to our definition of success.

To define success for yourself, you have to start by knowing your own values so you can be successful at what you care about.

Values Are About Sensitivities

But how do we actually know our values? How do we know what we really care about?

It seems like our values change a lot throughout our lives or in different situations. When we’re young, we might value independence. When we’re older, we might change this and start to value connections more. Or, in work, we value creativity But at home, we value structure.

Furthermore, how can we trust that we aren’t just copying other people’s values like their definitions of success?

The good news is that we have a built-in guidance system that tells us what we value—our sensitivities. Since we were born, we’ve been sensitive to some things but not others.


Maybe we’ve always been sensitive to freedom, and we’re constantly feeling trapped and looking for opportunities to feel freer. Or maybe, we’ve always been sensitive to belonging and feel left out really easily and always want to make people feel like they belong.

We tend to value what we notice and feel deeply. And we tend to feel what we’re most sensitive to because ‘sensitivity’ means we can sense more—see, touch, taste, smell, hear more there than most other people.

Of course, we’re going to have more wants, desires, needs, traumas, and gifts in that area of life because we’re more sensitive to it. Those same sensitivities are going to run through every single experience of our lives, across work and our family life and our friendships—from childhood to the present moment and even our future.

They’re going to show up in our greatest triumphs and painful traumas. They’re going to show up in the best and worst moments of our lives. Every single time we’ve ever been successful, we have felt all of them. Every single time we haven’t been successful, we haven’t felt them.

They’re a reliable, predictable formula for success and fulfillment that works in every situation of our lives. They’re our secret to success—how we define success on our own terms.

Now, all we have to do is map your sensitivities to define success for yourself.

Map Your Sensitivities to Discover Your Definition of Success

To start mapping your sensitivities, you need emotionally potent stories from your life—noticing the sensitivities and, therefore, values and metrics for success that are apparent in your stories.

So, below is a quick exercise to guide you through starting to map your sensitivities:


  1. Think of the happiest, most successful memory in your life. Paint a picture in your mind. Notice what you see, touch, smell, hear and taste in this scene.
    Write down every word that you felt at this moment. Maybe you felt happy, elated, powerful, magical, successful, alive, enriched, or emboldened.
  2. Now, think of one of the most challenging or painful memories in your life (that doesn’t feel re-traumatizing to explore)—a moment you would regard as “unsuccessful.” Again, paint the picture in your mind and use all of your senses to bring it to life.
    Write down every word that captures how you felt at that moment. Maybe you felt sad, abandoned, confused, stuck, lost, or annoyed. Now, next to each word, write down what you wanted to feel. Maybe you wanted to feel happy, connected, clear, motivated, at home, or excited.
  3. Go through your two lists—of your happy moment and your challenging moment—and circle any words that show up twice or more. For example, if you felt Connected in your happy moment, and you wanted to feel Connected in your sad moment, circle it. If any words are very similar, you can circle those, too.
    Now, you’re beginning to map your sensitivities. If you felt all of the words you circled, would you consider it a success? Of course, you would. Because they’re what you’re most sensitive to and, therefore, what you value. You can think back to past moments of success and begin to see those words. You can think back to past moments of “failure” and see the opposites of those words.

While this is a very simple but potent introduction to defining success for yourself, mapping sensitivities can be a lot more in-depth and insightful than this.

The Secrets to Success

We all already have a lifetime of experiences that define success for us. They tell us the things that have been successful for us—from our best friendships to our biggest accomplishments. And they also tell us the things that have been unsuccessful for us. All we have to do is connect the dots between all of those experiences and understand the sensitivities that define success for us.

The real secret to success is following the blueprint that’s already proven to be successful for you. Your entire life already has that evidence. Maybe every single time you’ve connected deeply, been playful and fun, put out strategic ideas, and been unapologetic with your opinions, you’ve been successful. If that’s been true for you, then you already know your secret to success. You’ve seen it in the past and know that it will work in the future.

It’s success on your own terms.

I’ve helped hundreds of people discover their sensitivities, and I can say with certainty that, at the end of the day, we each have our own unique secret to success. And we don’t have to copy anyone else’s formula because no one else has the exact gifts and experiences and sensitivities that we have.

So, map your sensitivities. Discover your own secret to success. And define success on your own terms.

Featured photo credit: Samuel Clara via


[1] The NPD Group: Self Help Book Sales are Rising Fast in the US
[2] The Guardian: Why Real-Life Memoirs Are Such a Hit
[3] Oxford Languages: Success

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Mike Iamele

Mike Iamele is a Purpose + Brand Strategist who figures out what makes you naturally successful. Then helps you do it on purpose.

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Published on October 14, 2021

How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome

How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome

Do you ever worry about being exposed as a “fraud?” You’re not alone. It’s actually quite common for people to feel like imposters. In fact, approximately 70 percent of people admit to having experienced impostor syndrome[1] at some point in their lives — a Twitter poll found that 87 percent of people have experienced this.[2] Even successful and famous people like Tom Hanks, Howard Schultz, and Natalie Portman suffer from imposter syndrome.

But, what exactly is imposter syndrome. And, more importantly, how can you silence it?

Originally coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP, and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., the term “impostor syndrome” describes symptoms that include being unable to internalize accomplishments and being afraid of being exposed as a fraud.

The individual may also be plagued by chronic self-doubt and believe that they’re unqualified for success despite evidence to the contrary. Inadequacies, fears of failure, and disbelief that success is a matter of luck or timing are also common.

If you don’t address this phenomenon, feeling like an impostor can prevent you from achieving ambitious goals. Moreover, those experiencing these feelings tend to over-prepare or procrastinate — which obviously hinders productivity and reaching goals. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, imposter syndrome prevents you from pursuing new challenges and opportunities.

Do you feel like you’re suffering from impostor syndrome? If so, don’t beat yourself up. After all, there are effective ways to overcome these feelings in a healthy and proactive way.

1. Don’t Hide It.

“Firstly, acknowledge it,” advises Claudine Robson,[3] the Intentional Coach. “You give strength to imposter syndrome by letting it continue to peck away at your confidence unchecked.” It can only be banished if you acknowledge it as soon as possible and break the silence.


“Then you need to separate your feelings from facts,” Robson adds. “One thing imposter syndrome does very effectively is to mix up your perceptions of reality.”

If you can, take a step back and look at the situation objectively. “Recognize when you should — and when you should not — feel fraudulent,” she says. Appreciate and acknowledge the task, intellect, and insight that have led to your success.

You might even be able to take action by recognizing that the reason you feel fraudulent is that you’re new to a task. “That gives you a path forward; learning is growth, don’t deny yourself that.”

2. Implement the STOP Technique

In her book Cognitive Enlightenment, Melinda Fouts, Ph.D., outlines a technique to overcome imposter syndrome using what she calls the STOP technique.

“STOP is an acronym for ‘silence the oppressive player,” Fouts explains in Forbes.[4] “You need to eradicate this tape that is playing 24/7, whether you are conscious of it or not. It plays loudest when we are tired, hungry, or feeling defeated.”

Steps to implementing the STOP technique and rewiring your brain are as follows:

To replace the tape of not good enough, you need a “launch sentence.” “I’m more than good enough” would is an example of a solid launch statement.


Put your launch sentence in prominent locations, such as your car’s dashboard or computer. How come? The reason is that as the tape plays, you won’t be able to remember your launch statement.

Continue to say “stop” until you recall your launch sentence, says Fouts.

Put your launch sentence into your own words and pontificate.

While going about your daily tasks, like while driving or exercising, practice your launch sentence so you can recall it when you need it in the future.

“I am told this sounds simple and it does,” she adds. However, this technique is challenging when your negative tape is playing. You will not want to replace the tape every day while your brain is rewiring itself. “It is these moments you can’t give up.”

3. Distinguish Humility and Fear

When it comes to hard work and accomplishments, there’s humility, and then there’s fear. In other words, having a high level of competence can lead one to discount its value occasionally. However, as Carl Richards wrote in an article for the New York Times,[5] “After spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural?”

The problem is that we feel unworthy from time to time. But, as Seth Godin explained in a blog post,[6] “When you feel unworthy, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw.”


Feeling worthy without feeling entitled is possible. And, finding the right balance between them is critical for overcoming impostor syndrome. “Humility and worthiness have nothing at all to do with defending our territory,” Godin continues. “We don’t have to feel like a fraud to also be gracious, open, or humble.”

4. Keep a “Brag Sheet”

When you were sending out college applications, did you build yourself a “brag sheet?” If not, here’s a clean description from Shawna Newman,[7] “A brag sheet is very similar to a student resume – it highlights your accomplishments, key experiences, leadership skills, and employment throughout your secondary education.” In short, “it’s a quick reference guide with all the details and achievements for someone trying to get to know you better.”

While it may be awkward at first, you can apply the same concept when coping with imposter syndrome. Just compose a list of your accomplishments, activities, skills. That’s it. Just remember Godin’s advice and also be humble and gracious.

As an added perk, besides being an effective way to talk myself up, I’ve also found that this has helped me stop comparing myself to others. Instead of harping about other people’s milestones, I’m honing in on what I’ve done.

5. Celebrate Wins, Period

Speaking of accomplishments, they shouldn’t be categorized as small or big. After all, you feel as if you don’t belong when you have imposter syndrome. So, the more you celebrate your wins, the more confident you’ll become.

Furthermore, accept compliments without qualifying them and practice listening to praise every day. Finally, become kinder to yourself by saying at least one kind thing to yourself daily. And, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

6. Assemble a Legion of Superheroes

“You know how corporations have a board of directors to — in theory — make them stronger, maintain checks and balances, leverage resources, and help advance the organization’s vision?” asks inspirational speaker, speaking coach, and creative consultant Tania Katan.[8] “Why not assemble your own board of directors to leverage resources to help make your career stronger, keep you in check and balanced, and advance your vision?”


“My friend Alison Wade, president of conferences, training, and consulting at Techwell, calls her personal board of directors her “front-row” — those are the people she invites to sit spitting distance from the stage, cheer her on, challenge her, and review her performance,” Katan writes.

As for Katan, she calls hers a “legion of superheroes.” The reason? “I dig the idea of joining forces to do good in the corporate galaxy.”

It’s important to have a diverse group of individuals who will defend you. Ideally, they should be varied in all dimensions, such as cultural background, way of thinking, and skills.

Katan recommends that you meet together frequently, whether if that’s once a week or every quarter. “Share your experiences, fears, creative ideas, aspirations,” she adds. “Celebrate each other’s accomplishments.” You also need to both support and challenge each other. “Discover what you are capable of doing when you combine your powers.”

7. Visualize Success

Follow the example of a professional athlete by imagining yourself crushing that presentation or project. You’ll enjoy the relief from performance-related stress. And, more importantly, it can help you avoid focusing on the worst-case scenario.

Final Words of Advice

While there’s no single formula to cure imposter syndrome, the tips listed above are a start. After all, your success depends on your ability to fight the negative effects of it. For example, feeling unworthy over time can lead to crippling anxiety and depression if left untreated.

If you’ve tried the above, then make sure that you speak to someone about what you’re experiencing, whether it’s a mentor, peer group, or licensed professional. And, above all else, there’s a place at the table for everyone — no matter what your inner voice is telling you.


How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via


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