Over the years I have learned a lot about personal development through my job, books, and articles. I have seen what works and what doesn’t work for people.One thing I understood is that what I think is good for someone isn’t always what’s good for them. When I apply my own standards and ambitions to someone who has different expectations, I am not being very helpful. In psychology it’s called “transference“: “a situation where the feelings, desires, and expectations of one person are redirected and applied to another person.” My own definition of success can differ from yours. There is not one way to be successful, there is just the way that will work for you.

Defining success

Everyone wants to be successful, but not many are able to put words of what it means to them. When do you know you are successful? Is it when you get a promotion, buy a house or become millionaire? Or is it something less tangible like learning a new skill or get recognition?To start defining what success means to you, consider answering the questions below:
  1. What makes me happy in life?
  2. What is important for me?
  3. When do I feel the most achieved?
  4. What have I done that I am most proud of?
  5. Why do I do what I do?
  6. What would I do if I could do anything?
  7. What do you want more of in life, what do you want less of?

How to answer these questions

Consider all aspects of life when writing down your answers: family, work, relationships, learning, health, money, attitude, spiritual, personal growth, self-image, fun & recreation.Be specific and think about the why. Go from the big picture to the detail back and forth. When you list experiences where you felt fulfilled, explore the reasons of that feeling rather than just stating facts. What is it about that situation that made you proud or gave you a sense of achievement? Is there anything else you didn’t mention? What other experiences did you have where you felt the same way? I know, more questions. You need to dig your answers. Only then will you be able to have a good understanding of what success means to you.

Why it’s important

Working on your definition of success is one way to build self-awareness among many others. It is particularly helpful to set achievable goals. Imagine working for something thinking that this will be a great achievement, only to discover once you’re there that you don’t feel that great. Quite a waste of time, don’t you think? By stopping first on what it is that makes you feel good, you create a map of past experiences and learnings you will be able to use to choose the direction you want to take. Relying on others to give you this direction is like being given the map of someone else to go where they want to go (hello again, transference).

Knowing where you are now to see where you should go next

It’s going to sound very cliché, but before you raise an eyebrow, hear me out. I want to use a metaphor to show you the purpose of this exercise.

Life is like a journey. At times you will travel by foot to take your time. Other times you will go faster by car or train. The destination of most journeys is happiness, success, living a good life. The more specific you will be, the more precise your destination will be. You will meet all sorts of people: backpackers, solo travelers, groups, luxury travelers, or people who prefer staying where they are. Along the way you will come across fellow travelers who want to go to the same place but through a different path. You might adjust your journey to take the same road because that’s what they do, or you might not.

All you have with you is a map of that journey. Your next step depends on where you are on that map and what you know of the path ahead of you in terms of benefits, learning, and opportunities.

Self-awareness is being able to place yourself on that map at any given time. It’s keeping track of where you’ve been and what your current location is. When you know where you are and where you want to go, you see better what you should do next. The path between now and your future achievements becomes clearer.

This powerful image of the journey, the map, the destination to reach, has helped me put one foot in front of the other in times when I have felt unsuccessful or frustrated not to go faster. If you can think of a different metaphor that works for you, use it, develop it and share it. It is another great way to develop yourself.