When Success Feels Like Failure

I have so been there. By all outward measures, I was a success. Money, house, travel, career, marriage. I appeared to have it “all”.

So why was I so unhappy?

I’d managed to accomplish the difficult task of becoming a practicing attorney, so why couldn’t I succeed at enjoying the life I’d built?

What I failed to understand is that happiness doesn’t just happen by chance -- it must be cultivated.

My first mistake was assuming that happiness would follow from amassing the spoils of material success. After all, financial security is far superior to financial instability, right? And if I love to travel to exotic places, working hard to afford these trips leads to my happiness. I have a beautiful house that is financed in part by my high-paying job, so late nights at the office are worth it. The rationalization went on and on.

But I was trapped in a vicious cycle of justifying the costs of material success.

Once my material success hit an all time high, and my emotional satisfaction responded by hitting an all time low, I knew something had to change. With the help of my life coach I learned that in order to feel fulfilled and successful, the notion of “success” needs to be defined on my terms.

So what does it mean to define success on your own terms?

For me, it meant casting aside any preconceived notions I had about worldly success and digging deep to discover what would make me feel truly fulfilled (rather than appear successful to others). One of the most telling revelations I had was that I didn’t want my future children to know me as an attorney. Wow.

But I knew there was more to it than just my job.

What was it about being an attorney that made me want to hide my profession from my unborn kids?

I hated the idea of not being able to consistently be home from work at a set time. I didn’t want to send the message that work is more important than family time. Even more so, I didn’t want my kids to think it’s okay to spend the majority of the day doing something that drains their spirit and lowers their quality of life.

From there, I was able to extract a nugget of what my definition of success includes:  enjoying my job.

Although that’s just one element, I knew it was a major one. Until this discovery, I had subordinated the notion of enjoyment to the principle of competence. I assumed that if I picked a job at which I excelled, then I would enjoy my job as a result and fulfillment would ensue. In reality, having a job I was good at didn’t translate into a sense of fulfillment.

Instead I felt like a failure because I wasn’t enjoying my so-called success.

When you hear that nagging voice that wonders if this sense of failure is what success feels like, answer with an emphatic, “HELLS, NO!” Success leaves you feeling satisfied, fulfilled, happy, energized and excited to start each day.

The key is doing the work to figure out what your definition of success includes.

I'm not saying rainbows and unicorns will be flying out your arse 24/7.  I'm telling you that once you identify what success really means to you, you'll enjoy the pursuit and realization of success.

How do you define success on your terms?

Start by asking yourself how you want to feel when you’ve achieved “success”. Then try working backwards to identify behaviors, habits and activities that create (or sabotage) those feelings for you. Write all this down or type it into a document on your laptop. You’ll want to be able to reference these brainstorms as you piece together what success means to you.

Share in the comments or in an e-mail to me an element (or two) of your definition of success and how you came to discover it.