Professionelle resources

What is Success?

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

One of our longest term members sent me a very thoughtful e-mail about the subject of defining success.  Her e-mail and the discussion around the tables during one of our “Self Awareness” networking seminars led me to re-visit this chestnut of a topic: what is success and how do we define it?

Here’s the Email that Started it All…

Gina [I’ll call her] wrote:

“I was thinking about you because of a question that keeps bugging me. The question is around the definition of success.

In my personal life, I used to be very success oriented, and success had only one definition – to make good money, to be senior (to be ‘important’), to be recognised.

I went to a networking event recently and the speaker was a super-strong-successful-case-study-to-be-admired type of person. She gets to speak at events and have everybody in the room dream they could be like her.

At the end of the talk I noticed she took her little travelling suitcase and got a cab to the airport for her next engagement and I felt a bit sorry for her because I just took the train home.

Now I have part time jobs, and ongoing projects, and in fact I feel more ‘successful’ than others around me who have more senior roles, primarily because I get to spend my afternoons where I want, get my kids and go to the park, or – much more often – go home have a sleep or read a book.  The other ‘successful’ people around me have to work full time and get home when it’s dark. But they are more ‘important’, more senior.

I do feel successful most of the time but every so often I stop and ask myself, am I going to be sorry for ‘quitting the race’? Is it OK to settle at a comfortable level and not strive to get the top?

It is SO VERY contrary to how I have been raised.

It is so very contrary to how my partner thinks.  He is happy that I am doing it but would NEVER consider doing the same himself. Maybe for me it is OK because I am a woman?

So my thoughts are around the definition of success. How we have assumptions and unchecked beliefs about it, and how we forget that it can be fluid and change throughout life.

Do other women, and mums, really know that there are alternatives to ‘the race’ and that they do not mean you are failing? They are just as OK as being a senior manager or a partner. Or are they?”

Defining Success Others’ Way

I wholeheartedly agree with Gina’s comments.  Everyone defines success for us. Media images of business women clad in designer gear who are fabulous cooks and, oh, extremely slim (sigh) are examples put forward as role models who define what success is for us professional women.  Women who have ‘made’ it to the upper echelons of management are held up as ‘successful’ for us.  And of course, yes they are successful.  But the question is, are these the only acceptable definitions of success for professional women?

You Can Never Be The ‘Only’ Top Dog

The real problem with taking on other people’s definition of success – often comprised of status, money, power – is that there will always be someone out there who has more than you.  I suspect that is what Gina senses, that men and women who define their success only by these terms are essentially on a treadmill that will never satisfy them.

From a research perspective, a good illustration of what happens when you define your success singularly in those terms, is Queen Bees.  Queen Bees are senior women who have succeeded the tough way and who expect other women to do the same.  Unfortunately these women have often lost their authentic selves as the price of their advancement.  Research interviews with women who fit this definition show that they felt they had to fit in with someone else’s values and definition of success. How sad.

Defining Success Your Way

In our view, if you want to be successful and leverage all the good that comes from seeing yourself as successful – you need to be clear about what success means to YOU.  In essence, we believe success is about becoming the Director of your own life’s play…

What we suggest is that YOU construct your own personal definition of success, just like Gina has done.  To Gina, being successful means deriving a considerable income from 4-5 hours a day of work each day while being able to spend time with her young children and do things that make her happy!  Sounds good to me.  But of course, this might not be everyone’s definition of success and that’s OK too.  It is about what success means to YOU.  Not about how others define it for you.

Sarah and I have debated, discussed and dissected this question on many occasions.  We have both followed very untraditional career paths.  We ourselves off-ramped from the traditional career trajectory once we had our children and yet we are both highly satisfied by our careers and, dare I say it, each considers her career a success.

So What Are Our Tips For Defining What Your Success Means? 

At the end of her e-mail Gina asks:

Do other women and mums really know that there are alternatives to ‘the race’ and that they do not mean you are failing?

So yes, we do have tips and suggestions on how you might think about defining what success means to you.

  1. Be clear about what ‘rocks your world’.  Be really honest with yourself. Is making money really important? If so, that’s great as long as there are also other things (remember someone will always make more than you).  Perhaps being seen as the leading expert in your field? Whatever it is, articulate it and test it to make sure it is yours, not what others see for you.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others.  While it’s great to use others as yardstick for where you are at, comparisons, especially ones that make you feel inadequate, are really, really unhelpful.
  3. Make peace with the choices you’ve made.  And if you can’t, change the choices!

So Gina, yes, there are many definitions of success and the key is to be really clear on your own one!

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All Topics
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  • Build for success
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