TECHNIQUES: How To Redefine Success

What does success mean to you? Like, really?

We are suspended in a moment when traditional notions of success - money, power, status - are being called into question, but alternative aspirations - peace of mind, community, time to pursue non-work related interests - are not quite culturally-sanctioned life goals. After all, it's hard to pursue a quiet, simple life in a world that wants you to live your 'best life', with all the material and professional triumphs that infers.

It goes without saying that the comparative culture of social media makes it much harder to define success on purely personal terms. Living, as we do, with this constant exposure to the highlights reel of other people's lives, it's all too easy to feel undermined - and ultimately, derailed - by the dripfeed of their daily 'wins'. In his recent interview with Gayletter, Frank Ocean spoke about how dangerous the dogma around success can be for those in creative fields:

"A lot of people I talk to about careers in the music industry, their ideas of success have to do with nostalgia. They have to do with tropes of success, things they’ve been shown over the years that represent what a successful career is. I think that helps you become prey, because somebody can manipulate you with those things. Then you may get to a point in your experience where you become disillusioned with those things. So anybody having a clear idea — even if it’s as crass as “How much money do I want to make, specifically?” — I think that’s much clearer than some of these other things that represent success, whether that’s X amount of spins or streams or plaques. Even sold-out venues. If those things don’t help you reach your defined priorities, then what are those things there for?

That’s how I try to make decisions in my life and career, and, if asked, I share that philosophy with anybody who asks. For me, it’s about: Why am I doing this? What exactly do I want from this? And how do I get those specific things I want out of this? And what does success look like on those terms? And what does failure look like on those terms? That’s how I think about it now."

Frank's philosophy is one I think he might've borrowed it from Gary Keller's book 'The One Thing', in which the author advocates a process of rigorous questioning as a means of reaching clarity around our own true intentions in life. it's only from this point of focus, Keller argues, that we might ever hope to achieve success on meaningful terms. As he puts it (and Frank echoes): “Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.”

Of course, priorities shift over time and definitions of success evolve along with them. For this reason it's important that we, like Frank, adopt the habit of regularly questioning the thoughts and beliefs that inform our ideas about success, if only to ensure that they are still, in fact, our own. 

In an era that implores us to become as 'successful' as humanly possible, it's important to keep your personal definition of the term close. Last year, I made a worksheet for The WW Club that might help you to kickstart that process. There's a free download link below. Let me know if it helps – I hope it does.


Frank Ocean, Gayletter Read

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller Read

A New Definition of Success, The WW Club Download