Three Kinds of People, Three Kinds of Success. Which are You?

happiness success


How do you define your personal success? When asked what you want in life, do you tell people the job you want to do, or the kind of company and environment you want to work for, or the effect you want to have on the world?

Yesterday, I was meeting with a mentor to figure out what I needed to do to be successful and happy in Boulder now that I've quit my job, and to understand why I felt the need to quit my job in the first place (oh yeah, Mom and Dad, by the way, I quit my job.

He told me the story of figuring out his own path, sharing how he'd looked back over his work history to figure out the things he enjoyed doing that tied it all together. He thought of the things which made him happy. In the jobs that minimized those things, he was unhappy, so he sought to create a kind of work that would allow him to focus on doing the things that he loved.

So that was the first way to define personal happiness: what do you want to do?

When he asked his wife the same question, she talked about the environment she was in, rather than the projects and duties she worked on. She was more concerned with the people she would be surrounded by and the atmosphere of the job.

At first, he thought that she hadn't understood the question, so he clarified and asked again, but got the same answer. Eventually, he figured out that the way she saw her own success was more about the work environment than the kind of work.

That led to the second category: what kind of environment do you want to work in?

Then he asked me the question. After giving it some thought, I realized that I was the happiest when I got to inspire people and help them grow to overcome challenges and become their personal best. It didn't matter if I was doing that by teaching kids how to camp, writing inspirational psychology, helping a friend approach a difficult relationship with integrity, or teaching people how to move and eat well. As long as I was helping people grow, I was happy.

And so, my mentor now had a third way to define success: what effect do you want to have?

Being able to think of my personal definition of success as fitting into one of three criterion has helped me get a better sense of what matters to me. Previously, I always thought in terms of WHAT job I could do that helped people. The reality, of course, is that I can inspire people and help them grow in any kind of work, as long as I can figure out how and the structure of the work allows it.

That gives me the freedom to stop defining myself, but it also gives me more clarity on how to chart my course and present what I do so that it has integrity with my values.

Being able to act with integrity empowers me to be passionate, which in turn enables me to connect with and inspire others. Hopefully, that in turn will lead to some significance in the community and the material/financial support that comes with it.

So, when have you been happiest? What is your priority in finding a job or calling that makes you feel fulfilled?

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. Where and with whom do you want to work?
  3. What effect do you want to have?

Photo Credit: OliBac on Flickr