Success is traditionally defined as the achievement of an aim or purpose. Before delving into the skills needed for success, it is imperative to define what success means for you. After interviewing a broad spectrum of people between the ages of 21 and 29, the variety of answers proved that success takes a myriad of forms.
What is success?
Many interviewees focused on the financial and material aspects of success — being able to achieve financial independence from their parents and families. Others considered success in terms of their current jobs/careers — being able to continuously grow, develop and achieve milestones at work. Few focused on success in a more personal way — finding happiness within themselves and and enjoying contentedness. However, upon reflection, a common theme among all these definitions of success is the progression from one state of being to a more advanced state. Using various examples of success trajectories, there are simple ways to achieve progress in today’s fast-paced world.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; instead, I set S.M.A.R.T. yearly goals and monitor progress every month. What makes these goals S.M.A.R.T is that they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Instead of setting a vague goal that I want to save money, for instance, I will set a goal like this:
“I want to save $15,000 by November 30 and put $5,000 of those savings in a credit union.”
This goal takes into consideration my current earnings, my spending patterns, the viability of saving that amount by a certain date, and how it will fit in to my bigger life picture. Interestingly, the “fastest man alive” does the same thing. Usain Bolt is most popularly associated with track and field, but he is also a budding football player:
“For me it’s a personal goal…I’m not going to lie to myself…if I go out there and feel I can do this, I will give it a try.”
In other words, Bolt wants his goal of a potential football career to be attainable and relevant in the grand scheme of his life. His statement also incorporates another important aspect of goal-setting — the need for courage and fearlessness in trying to achieve your goals. One of the interviewees I discussed success with commented that his goals require “the perfect mix of contentedness and hunger”. Although it is important to set S.M.A.R.T. goals, it’s also important to set goals that may be seem somewhat daunting, because these are the goals that will challenge and change you.
Now that you have set your goals, how do you ensure you achieve them? Although various definitions of success may encompass both material and immaterial manifestations of achievement, they all require hard work, focus and discipline. One interviewee said that for him, success was “capitalising and building on the current success” in his life; for him, success continues to be a non-stop journey.
For Usain Bolt, success was his achievements at the very pinnacle of his sport — success at the Olympic Games required discipline. His daily training programmes consisted of 90-minute strength training sessions and sprint drills to improve his speed and timing. Despite his weakness for fast food, he kept a strict, balanced diet of ground provisions, chicken and vegetables. Discipline, therefore, has two important components: putting in the work to achieve a goal, while simultaneously sacrificing things that deter you from achieving that goal.
Discipline is fluid. Financial freedom, for example, requires a commitment to saving, investing wisely and capitalising on fruitful financial opportunities. Job/career success requires putting in maximum effort at work, networking, and doing the best job possible. Personal success requires a commitment to reflection, as well as discipline in getting in touch with your inner life. No matter what form it takes, discipline is a non-negotiable tool for achieving success.
Reflection and evaluation
Even if you are sufficiently disciplined and achieve set goals, that is not the end of the cycle. The theory of change is a model that is often used in working contexts to set goals, identify potential outcomes, raise risks to those outcomes and finally, monitor and evaluate. The reason this theory has been so successful in workplaces, is because it clearly maps how outcomes are/are not achieved, and insists on monitoring and evaluating growth (or lack thereof). Monitoring and evaluation are the most important elements of this model, because they allow for continued growth and development.
Once you have achieved your desired goals, taking the time to reflect on the tools you used to achieve them, the time it took and the risks involved, is crucial to future successes. One of my 2018 goals, for example, was to purchase my own car. I achieved this in November 2018, after beginning the process in August. Evaluating the achievement of this specific goal meant that I was able to note the mistakes I made in the process which held back the desired time frame, as well as the amount of time and effort it required. Doing this evaluation has made me better prepared for my next big purchase by enlisting support where needed, taking time off to complete time-sensitive parts of the process, and communicating clearly with the bank, the dealership, lawyers, insurance companies, and everyone else involved. It will help me make better purchases in the future and save me time and money.
Learning from mistakes is a big part of success. Usain Bolt has consistently said that getting beaten on the track is a wake-up call that allows him to reflect, regroup and work doubly hard on perfecting his craft. No matter what your goal is, it is vital to reflect on three things:
- Have I achieved what I set out to achieve?
- How has the process affected me?
- How can I do it better?
These simple questions make it easier to constantly do better.
We live in a mind-boggling universe of instant gratification, constant communication, and exposure to media platforms that create unrealistic ideas of success. See people “living their best lives” on social media can make you feel like your personal growth and success are out of reach, but by creating strong, realistic goals, maintaining discipline throughout the process of achieving them, and reflecting on how to do it even better next time, success will follow you in abundance.