What does it take to be successful? 

As a career coach, this is a question I get in one form or another pretty much every day.

The simplest answer is this: success isn't a destination. Just like happiness, or love - success isn't something you arrive at, it's something you practice.

In other words, it's a habit. And the strength of a habit depends on attention and repetition -  the quality and quantity of time you spend on success-oriented topics, activities, and people. The internet abounds with theories about which topics and activities you should spend your time on in order to achieve success.


However, there are two critical questions that most of these theories overlook:

  1. How do you define success?
  2. Who do you spend the most time with?

Let's take a look at each question in terms of how it impacts your success, and what you can do about it!

1. How do YOU define success?

There are three traps that I find my clients frequently get stuck in. Do any of these resonate for you?

1. Your definition of success has evolved, and you haven't realized it.
As a result, you're still striving towards an earlier version of success that no longer feels fulfilling or makes you happy. Enter many bad feels.

2. You're focusing more on what you want to do than on how you want to feel.
I can't tell you how many times I've gone had some version of this conversation with a client:

ME: "Forget about the promotion for a minute. What activities can you lose yourself in? Where you're in the moment and don't notice time passing? When you just feel relaxed, engaged, and happy?"
CLIENT: "Probably my photography. And baking fancy desserts!"
ME: "Ok. Can you think of any businesses that might use those two skills?"
CLIENT: "Party planning and hosting, I guess. If I could do whatever I wanted, I would just throw fancy parties all the time and take glamorous photos of all the guests!"
ME: "Is there any concrete reason you can't?"
CLIENT: ... Oh. No, not really. So I guess I need some help getting started?
ME: "On it." 

3. You are trying to meet someone else's definition of success.
Whether it's your partner's, parents', or society's doesn't matter - it isn't yours, and will therefore never make you happy.


If any of those traps describe your situation, here are a few practical steps you can take to get unstuck:

Strap in, because there's a lot of awkward feeling coming to a brain near you. But guess what? That's how the brain works. We ALL act how we feel, so if you want to take action towards your success like the boss b*tch you are, you better address those feelings. #sorrynotsorry


1. Take a moment to think about how you feel that isn't working for you. Do you feel undervalued or misrepresented at work? Are you lonely? Are you working for a company whose values don't match your own? Is one of your colleagues constantly undermining you? Are you frustrated by your family's lack of support? Grab a sheet of paper and scribble some ideas about what feels wrong, and what parts of your life those feelings belong to.

2. Consider how you want your life to feel - not just now, but in the future. This is how most of us judge our own success, whether or not we're aware of it. We want to feel happy, loved, respected, admired, valued, proud, challenged, growing…fill in the blank. If you've been aiming for an arbitrary achievement (an action) without thinking about whether or not it makes you feel the way you want to, you may be spinning your wheels.

Once you have a clearer understanding of how you want to feel, you have a set of relevant criteria to consider when making choices that could impact the direction of your career or your success. So grab another sheet and write down some ideas about how you want to feel!

#PROTIP: give yourself permission to want what you actually want. Don't let that inner bully limit you!

3. Brainstorm 5-10 concrete steps you can take that will lead to the feelings you identified in Step 2. Let's say you want to feel confident. Ok - so what activities increase your confidence? Get on it! Maybe you want to feel more connected at work. Maybe you could invite a coworker to lunch or happy hour and get to know them on a more personal level. You have more control over how you feel than you think. You simply have to get strategic about the actions that lead to those feelings, and hold yourself accountable to doing them.

4. Practice gratitude -- and learn to value happiness as much as any external trappings of success. Gratitude is one of the factors that studies consistently show positively impact happiness. And if you're genuinely happy, who cares if you don't own your own four-bedroom house? Who cares if you don't have a stock portfolio? Who cares if you do? As someone super-wise once said, "those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." A simple way to incorporate gratitude into your life is to write down three things you are grateful for at the beginning and end of each day!

If you follow these steps - taking the necessary time for real reflection and introspection - you will find yourself with a much clearer picture of your desired destination. Once you have a real destination - a place that you are dying to go - you'll be ready to create a supercalifragilistic road map to success!

But wait - we've forgotten something. What about that second question: "Who do you spend the most time with?" Don't worry - we're getting to that! It's in the next installment in the series, which you can read here