If you are going to pursue “success,” first you must define what it means to you. In order to define success, begin with a set of goals that are clearly stated, easily measured, and meaningful to you. That last part—meaningful to YOU—is often the hardest part of becoming successful. Creating the goals is relatively easy, but identifying the goals that actually mean something to you, without the influence of what others believe you should want to achieve, can be difficult.

From the time we are born, we are being influenced about what is “important” and what we “should” want. Furthermore, we absorb the values, beliefs, perspectives and prejudices of those with whom we associate. For example: If you are raised in a home and a community that values learning and education, then you will accept that you too will get an education and use it to make a living.

I want to go back to one particular word in the previous paragraph before I address any other aspect of success. The word is “prejudice.” Prejudice takes many forms and directions. Today one of the fastest growing prejudices is against capitalism and profit. This is a prejudice that if you have internalized it or are bombarded by it can keep you from succeeding as no other aspect of your life can. Why? Because if you believe what you are doing is “wrong,” then your heart will not be in it.

You will struggle to reconcile your goals with your beliefs; as the Biblical saying goes, “You cannot serve two masters because you will love one and hate the other” (Matthew 6:24). Many interpret this as “making money is wrong.” To the contrary; success and prosperity is God-given. God provides us with our own unique set of skills and abilities that are meant to be used to serve one another. However, we are not meant to love money more than God or people. To act honorably, with integrity and to provide value to another person in exchange for money is more than acceptable. It is expected.

If your definition of success does not at least include making sufficient money to pay your own way and help others, then the place to start in pursuing success is to address your feelings about money. Until you are comfortable recognizing money as merely an instrument of exchange and transaction, then you will struggle to “succeed” whatever goal you set.

Look at it from this perspective. If you want to develop a technology that improves the effectiveness of fuel consumption in automobiles, then you need the funds to do that. If you develop a successful (profitable, money-making) business, then you can support yourself, provide jobs to others, and donate to charity, all while improving the environmental and other conditions of the world. And if you are engaged in charitable or “not-for-profit” arenas, then you especially need to reconcile the fact that it takes MONEY to serve your constituency. Not-for-profit does not mean not making money; it really means for profit for a purpose other than shareholders.

Success will always be about something MORE than money. Money for the sake of itself will never be “enough.” Money can be a scorecard. It puts food on the table and a roof over your head. But it is merely a tool. So what is it that you want that is NOT about money or the things money buys?

The richest people in the world are often those who live in the most modest means. Why? Because they have understood that happiness and success is not about what you have or I have materially, but about what we accomplish. What are we most satisfied about being able to do or accomplish when no one else is around? In the moment before you die, when all the things of this world will stay here and you are leaving this world, which epitaph would you prefer?

Here lies Jane Doe. She was rich in things and poor in relationships.
Here lies Jane Doe. She was creative, inventive and with her ideas created a million jobs.

Here lies John Doe. He was devoted to his job and never failed to take a meeting.
Here lies John Doe. He was an inventor and businessman who changed the world with his ideas and charity.

To be successful, your goals must be aligned with your values. It just doesn’t work if they aren’t aligned. You may reach the goals if they aren’t aligned, but you won’t BE successful, because that kind of success is empty of joy. Success is about being happy in what you have accomplished, and about what you believe about yourself. Success is the most personal accomplishment you can achieve. So define it in the most personal way you possibly can.


Author:  Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC
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