One of my favorite questions to ask my clients is “what is success?” Typically, there is a pause and then the tap dance ensues.
We all strive for it. There are personal and societal definitions of success. However, there is often a gap between what we think is acceptable to say, our own definition and our innermost wants and needs. This gap is the music of the tap dance.
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Success has many meanings
For so many, fame and fortune is how they define success. American Idol and Eurovision wouldn’t be so popular without this desire. For some entrepreneurs, success is having their startup acquired by a larger organization. Some people aspire to leave a legacy to their families and communities or long-standing positive relationship with friends and family. The meanings may overlap and include other values we espouse.
Definitions of success may depend on motivation
Paul PIntrich in 2000 wrote an analytical commentary on motivation terminology, theory and research that pointed out that there are several possibilities as to why people set and achieve goals. He writes from the perspective of Goal Theory which states that a student (for purposes of this post, this doesn’t have be exclusively academic) wishes to learn. They include:
- conscious thoughts that become labeled as goals
- approach and avoidant behaviors play a role in goal selection and achievement
- the possibility that there may be some influence from the environment
- an individual’s idiosyncratic way of interacting with the world.
Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets is consistent with achievement being dependent on a individual’s idiosyncrasies. She explains that there are two mindsets that influence how successful a person becomes. The first – fixed – is the mindset that traits, ability and behavior are immutable. For example, you are as smart as you are ever going to be. The second – growth – holds that traits, ability and behavior can be learned and improved. Intelligence and self-development use a continuous process involving commitment and practice.
Seeking out the “right” formula
Even if you just brush the surface of what is available in the professional development industry, you find a multitude of systems and recommendations. I did a quick search on Google and found over 900 million results. Interestingly, the majority seem to focus on traits, an individual’s idiosyncrasies. For brevity, I will only focus on a two examples.
Steven Covey-7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I could have started with Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie but Steven Covey has developed phrases that people use everyday. Covey’s premise is that the individual can take what is already present (traits and behavior) and enhance or adapt these into the best version of yourself.
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
- Think win-win
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Sharpen the saw
Richard St. John-The 8 Traits Successful People Have In Common: 8 To Be Great
Richard St. John clearly falls into the idea that goal achievement is based on an individual’s idiosyncratic way of interacting with the world. He interviewed 500 people and analyzed what they exhibited that supported their success. St. John uses his own experience of success-failure-return to success as illustrations of these traits (you can find a 3 minute TED talk here). He lists 8 traits:
His model is a repeatable cycle and not a one-way path. This acknowledges that success can be a series of moving forwards and backwards.
While these two examples are not the total of all that is out there, they have commonalities with many other models.
Success is seldom a simple trajectory
In a way, many of us are inventors of our lives. We seek out new experiences and information and test to see how they fit. Failure often accompanies success. We want to know what, why and how to achieve.
What is it within us that makes us strive for something beyond everyday existence?
In US, “manifest destiny” still influences thought, how is success sought after in other cultures?
Success models imply ethics. In business, why does the drive for success often disconnect from ethics?
Why is there a disconnect between what we say is our definition of success vs what we really desire?
About the author: Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.