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Are you lying to yourself about what success means? Here’s how to tell

Many of us base our ideas of success on what we think they should be, rather than what we want them to be. Here’s why that’s a problem.

Are you lying to yourself about what success means? Here’s how to tell
[Photos: Ariel Besagar/Unsplash; Jason Leung/Unsplash]

Picture yourself on an average Tuesday. It’s a workday, so you’re probably sitting at your desk, sipping coffee, and slogging through the to-do list for the morning. Suddenly, you hear your cell phone start screeching from your bag. Surprised, you check the number—it’s your best friend. You answer.

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“Hey, what are your plans for this week?”

“Work, I guess? And that new HBO show is starting on Friday, so I figured I’d—”

“Wrong,” they say dismissively, “Pack your bags; we’re going to Fiji for six weeks. Tickets are bought, the hotel’s booked, and your name is on the roster. Get your butt out of that office, and get over here.”

If you’re the average person, the possibility of this ever happening is pretty close to zilch. Not many of us have friends willing to whisk us away to an island retreat for free—but let’s suppose for a second that you did. What would happen if you just stood up from your desk, dumped out your coffee, and packed a bag for Fiji?

I find that most entrepreneurship-minded people don’t know what they want beyond the “success” catchall. So, let me ask—what does success mean for you?

Understanding where people currently are is critical to figuring out where they want to take their careers and businesses in the future. In my experience, this particular scenario reveals a lot about a given person’s situation, where they are in their entrepreneurial or professional journey, as well as their views of what success constitutes. Here are the three mindsets that I typically run into.

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Mindset one: If I don’t work, I don’t make money

I like to call this the “job stage.” If you think that you don’t make money unless you’re actively putting in the time, you’re in this category. Don’t get me wrong: the job stage isn’t limited to hourly positions and 9-to-5 grinds. I have friends who are highly successful investment professionals, and even they only bring in income when they close a deal or get credit from a commission. The job stage could also apply to some entrepreneurs who own their own businesses and rely on their own skills to execute services.

Mindset 2: I’m integral to the process of making money

When you’re in what I call the “business stage,” you technically could leave—but the business might fall apart if you do. Someone in this category is a crucial cog in the overall machine; they have a critical role in day-to-day operations, and without them, the enterprise will not function correctly. For an entrepreneur, this role can vary. You might want to handle logistics, or make sales, or manage client communications. You are intimately involved in your business, even if your efforts don’t directly translate to the compensation you receive for your work.

Mindset 3: Sure, let me get my bags. I’m not needed in my business at all

You can go to Fiji for six weeks. Heck, you can go to Fiji for six years, if you wanted. I call this the “empire stage,” and it applies to those who aren’t involved in the day-to-day operations of running their businesses. You might be an owner-strategist; you might come back from Fiji with a brilliant idea of where to take the company in the future, but you aren’t responsible for the more granular aspects of leadership. Because you have capable people who are running the business, if you want to go away, your professional life (or your business) won’t suffer.

How to design your future

You might be wondering, what do any of those mindsets have to do with your definition of success? Which one is success?

I want you to put yourself back in that office chair on that typical Tuesday, coffee in hand. The phone rings; your best friend is once again asking you to hop on a plane to Fiji for six weeks. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you can go—but do you want to? Your future success hinges on your answer.

Are you the kind of person who thrives on making a business tick? Do you want to know that your daily work contributes directly to the growth and success of a business? Does running a venture—or even running logistics for a company—satisfy you?

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If you said yes to any of the above, the idea of leaving your business in the care of others while you explore other opportunities from a beach on Fiji probably doesn’t appeal to you. Some people prefer to stay involved with their companies on a day-to-day basis and are better suited to living in the business stage instead of the empire stage. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The key is to leave your ego at the door and figure out what kind of life makes you happy. That way, you can start designing your life in a way that’s consistent with your goals and priorities.

When you lie to yourself about what success means, or base your decisions on perceived external expectations, you might inadvertently start to build the kind of life you don’t want. You may find yourself on a beach, wondering when you first began hating sand so much—or in an office, wishing that you could put aside all the day-to-day jargon to pursue other ideas. Don’t let that be your reality.


Aaron Sansoni is a sales coach, serial entrepreneur, and leadership mentor in Australia.

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