Fulfillment. Rejuvenation. Peace. The calm of blissful content.
These are what we feel when we achieve success. But what is the tangible aspect around success? What event or events signal our arrival? Is it the money we made or the new show we are starring in? Is it traveling the world without a penny to our name? What exactly are we looking for? And furthermore, does it require that our achievements are acknowledged by our peers, by society, by anyone?
The first problem with success is its definition. We’ve read articles, blogs, and stories, we’ve seen movies, we’ve listened to our friends. Everyone views success differently. A friend said it perfectly. The problem is “[the difference between] … what you consider success and what the world tells you success is, and the reconciliation between those things… Society says: have a good job, have a family, make enough income you can retire. But that is a one size fits all definition. For others, success could be as simple as doing something you love even if it’s not very profitable. For others still, success is putting food on the table and raising kind children.”
Success is evident in how we feel when we decide for ourselves that we have achieved it. It is not in the outward manifestation of our efforts – someone could be distraught with plenty, and, conversely, overjoyed with little. Actual success, rather, is, as my dear friend put it, “happiness of the mind, body, and spirit.”
So, how do you achieve success if it is so arbitrarily defined? How can we get something if we don’t even know what it is we are trying to get? Unfortunately, the answers can’t be narrowed to just one path and the seven steps to get there, because everyone’s story is unique. There are several paths – some long and windy, some short and wide, all different, all difficult, all formative. That being said, however, it would be cruel of me to leave you hanging at… step 1: figure out what you want, step 2, 3, 4, 5, …success: achieve success. So, here you will find some actual, tangible things you can do once you get over that first step. And be warned, it can rear its ugly head again, even after you’ve made it three or four steps up the ladder. Success is easy. Step one is hard.
Nevertheless, let’s start at the beginning. What is the number one obstacle? Heart, or rather, the lack thereof. “Heart,” meaning the intrinsic desire to do something; motivation, passion, drive, intent, want. You have to be all in. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s just not going to work; success will remain a vague vision of victory where resentment reigns superior.
Step one: define success for you. What would make you happy? What do you want to achieve? Be careful, as this is not what you “should” do, or what your mom says is best for you. This is what actually excites you and motivates you. Where is your heart?
The next steps? Rather than pile these on neatly, let me first confuse you as to the order of operations with the story of my own success.
I consider myself successful because of what I have done thus far, and I find myself a champion at my sport because of how easily and quickly I got to where I am today. But don’t let those words fool you – “easily,” “quickly.” In the grand scheme of things, my efforts were little, but in the heat of the moment, things were ugly, tiring, stressful, hard. I simply knew what I was working towards. I knew what I wanted my life to look like, not because I thought long and hard about what could or couldn’t be possible, not because my parents would agree or disagree, not because I thought that’s what we all should have, but because I simply wanted what I wanted and did what I thought would get me there.
My profession is a rather shocking one. While I’m not the girliest of girly-girls, I will say that I enjoy fashion and I try to dress well. I err on the side of overdressed rather than underdressed, and while I don’t sport all the latest trends, I like to keep myself looking refined and sophisticated – as much as I can. I wear makeup, love shoes, want the latest purses, and like to do up my hair. So, it comes a bit unexpected when I introduce myself as a Mechanical Engineer. Without meaning to generalize or stereotype, there are so few women in the field to begin with, let alone ones that are on the girly side, that it tends to surprise people. Then, I am usually greeted next with, “What made you want to be an Engineer?” or “Did you always know you wanted to be an Engineer?” In short, I’ve always been good at math and I love design, so it’s the perfect fit.
The truth is, I began with an Architecture major. While I enjoyed my time there, there was something lacking. I enjoyed classes, I liked designing, and pulling all-nighters was fine, but it slowly lost its pull. I decided on Architecture, because unique buildings would amaze and inspire me. I even announced that I would design unique hotels all over the world. Yet, looking back, as I spoke those words, they lacked conviction. I spoke them excitedly and wishfully, and people would marvel at the grand idea. Yet, there was some subconscious spot of detachment.
After my first year in Architecture, the internship search was brutal. I could not find anything, not even unpaid; the companies themselves had no projects to work on, so they were not able to take on additional resources. The dreary future was in no way something to look forward to, and I knew I would be no Frank Gehry from the get go, so I decided I needed to change something.
It was then that I began to realize that I wanted to make money with my career. I wanted to have a job that would support my way of life – to not have to be too careful or too tight with money, to live how I wanted, and to also allow me the time and energy to pursue hobbies after hours. Architecture was something that required intense passion and dedication were I to make it big. It’s not that I didn’t want to do the work, but I didn’t want to burn myself out with endless hours of hard work and struggle financially while making a name for myself. And that was the future I saw for myself if I had stayed. It was time to pursue another path.
So, being that I was always advanced in math, paired with my love of design, I switched into Engineering. I chose Mechanical, as it was a broad major, which I could apply in almost any industry – automotive, aerospace, medical, etc. The possibilities were endless, the jobs would be fun and challenging, I could move up the career path, and the pay would support the life I began to envision for myself.
The fear of financial struggle and the desire to have a good work-life balance became my motivators. Engineering was the vehicle that would get me there.
When it came time to apply for jobs, I worked fervently. I attended speaker events, career fairs, networking dinners, the works. I probably submitted my resume to every living thing I walked past, but there was one company that I knew was the one. It was “hired” at first sight, if there was such a thing. I put all my eggs in one basket, because I knew I had the job before I even left the table. OK, I put some of my eggs into a couple other baskets – some of the big name companies. I still felt excited and anxiously awaited their responses, but deep down I knew I had it going with this one.
Because of the switch, I completed school in December, and after the holiday, I arrived joyfully at the company parking lot, ready to take on the world and rock the interview. A couple weeks later, I had a cube with my name on it. Done and done!
As I was now in the working world, it was time to start some hobbies. I picked up pilates, joined a fashion company, and started a side business. So far so good. My plan was working out exactly as I had envisioned.
Within the company, I continued to move up and around, quickly garnering various types of experiences. I attended trainings, assisted on special teams, managed high risk projects, learned from richly experienced colleagues, and received three promotions in under two years! I was on the move.
At the networking event back in my final semester at college, I had expressed my broad range of interests – from technical to management to even sales and marketing. I was carefully honest, professional, and excited. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to showcase my character in person rather than rely solely on my paper qualifications, but had I done it in reverse, I am confident that I would have also arrived at the place I am today.
Similarly, during the interviews and regular one-on-ones once I got hired, I always said what I wanted. I shared how I was performing and spoke of the types of work I was willing to be involved with next that would help not only my learning but the company as well. Perhaps I am lucky to have a company who listened to my needs, but every opportunity within has been presented to me, because I desired (and still desire) to move forward, enrich my career, and increase my value as an employee – whether here, there, or anywhere. And let it be known that every one of my opportunities came to me through others’ recommendations based on my performance, ability, and courteous professionalism.
I have accomplished much and am successful today, and I am sincerely yet humbly proud of what I have achieved thus far. However, I am nowhere near done. Success, lest we be stagnant and monotonous, is a moving target. It becomes addicting. The pride and enthusiasm that come with achievement propel us forward to other mountains we can climb. New goals precede me, new victories are brewing, new plans ensue. I am continuing to evolve, and I will again achieve success at every turn.
For instance, my life is no longer just me – I am married with two children. Thus my goal is no longer to simply have a job that can support my way of life and have hobbies on the side. That goal is complete; it has evolved. My definition of success is no longer the same. I cannot just maintain, my goal is to continue to grow. Success, now, looks like family time, savings for my children, and more vacations. The path I take to get there may or may not look the same, but I will follow the same steps that I did to get where I am today.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You are the lucky ones who get an actual list.
The easy-to-read (the bold stuff), quick(ish) guide to achieving success.
- Firstly, figure out what it is you want. Assess, reassess, confirm, confirm again. This is the longest, most difficult step. (Yes, this is the cheesy, BS, eye-roll inducing step, but if you don’t know what you want, you’re never going to get there). If you want to figure out what you want, DO things – anything. Be a YES man (or woman). Seize every opportunity (again, feel free to roll your eyes, but I’m telling you, it’s key). This and step 3 may turn into a cycle until you finally get it. It’s rare that someone knows what they want to do in life when they’re in kindergarten or grade school. The majority of us figure it out as we go. So this is going to involve a lot of self-reflection, action, and evaluation.
- Find out what will get you there. When you settle on your step one, you can’t just get it. There is probably not just one thing that will get you there; there are likely countless things. What do you enjoy doing? Are you willing to sacrifice anything? Do you have the means? This could be a) getting a job, b) quitting your job, c) working two jobs, d) singing on Third Street on Saturdays for tips and exposure, the list goes on. Choose your vehicle. Select your course.
- Take action. The greatest action, is both action itself and inaction. Inaction will leave you sedentary, if not, receding. Action will produce valuable outcomes – whether wins or fails, the course stimulates growth, where the outcomes, however positive or negative, support learning, and thereby, are valuable.
- Learn about your sport – google it, read it, ask questions, connect
- Practice – unless you’re a jedi, it’s going to be ugly at first, but try it out, make mistakes, learn, try again
- Do it – this is the true action step, make moves, do something, take action. You’ve dipped your feet in the water with practice, now it’s time to take the floaties off and swim
- Progress – more learning… you’ll get a handle of it, now it’s time to go further, seek advice at higher levels, grow. Here, the goal is still the same, but it is your level of expertise you’re working on
- Evaluate. Now that you’re cruising through your journey and have achieved a state of flow, how do you feel? Do you feel satisfied, bored, accomplished? This is a hard one. This has to be about you, not society, not mom, not your cousin – you. If you don’t feel truly happy with what you have done, you simply go back to step one. It’s hard to reconcile that you didn’t just waste however long you spent getting here, but you didn’t. You are learning about yourself, and perhaps even before this step, you’ll have an epiphany of what it is you’re meant to do. This could be that you want something different, or, it could be that your want is the same, but you need a different vehicle. It will all become clear as long as you keep moving and keep evaluating. If you do feel truly happy, proud, and accomplished, move to step 5.
- Repeat. This is almost like step 1, but now you’re motivated by your own success and your confidence in your ability to do great things. Your life looks different now, and that will likely come with different desires, bigger goals, advanced successes. So, keep moving, set new goals, and continue to grow.
So… if you’re wondering, if you have to do all that, and there is still a possibility of failure, how can I say success is easy?
To be honest, if you need a list to guide you, you probably aren’t going after the right thing, or at least not utilizing the right vehicle to reach your goals. Sure, a list is always helpful, but I didn’t need this guide to accomplish what I’ve done to get where I am today. I simply did the steps, because I wanted to get what I wanted. Sure, you may have to study and read guides that tell you how to start a website, how to sing, how to format your resume, or how to anything, but as humans, if we want something badly enough, there is nothing that will stop us. Give me a scenario and I will show you.
When we have an end goal that is truly ours and we are motivated to reach it, success is easy. It requires action, it takes time, there are obstacles, but none of that matters to us, because we are almost blinded by our goal. When you feel that, you’ve found what you want. When you can say with conviction that you’re going to do something, you will. All it takes is heart, and that will get you anywhere.