Too often we let popular culture define what success is for us rather than think harder about we really value.
I would urge you to find a window of time this summer to answer the above question. I got the idea from Robert Holden’s Success Intelligence. He suggests giving your answers as a gift to one of your children.
Here are mine. Your life lessons may well be different and that would only make sense. They may include other areas such as health, spirituality, hard work and motivation. For example, my fiancée has a brilliant one: you teach people how to treat you. It feels rather personal for me to express these in my newsletter, but if doing so empowers even one person to think through this exercise, then it was worthwhile. You will be glad you did.
1. Don’t be afraid to give all for love.
This is number one for me because for over twenty years I was too afraid to give myself unconditionally. I had my heart broken after I left school by a girl called Sue. The problem was I didn’t know how much it had impacted me.
The scary part is that I unwittingly made a decision at that time (because I was in so much pain) never to give myself to love again. For over two decades I was in this confused fog not understanding my own actions fully – especially when they contradicted many of my thoughts and all of my dreams (including the ones I had at night).
I can take no credit for figuring this out. Only through taking a course offered by Landmark Education, hearing others share their stories, and me sharing mine did it all finally dawn on me.
2. Never give up
I know this is now a Winston Churchill cliché. However, I did give up on myself once in business just a few months after I first started in 2002. It was a book that got me back on track. Road Trip Nation told the stories of about 20 highly accomplished people.
As I looked over my notes after I’d read it, I was struck with how most of them said something like: “Failure is inevitable and necessary.” “You must develop a powerful relationship with failure.” I remember being so surprised at how often this came up and asking myself: “How come nobody ever taught me that it’s normal to fail and that you have to pick yourself up again?” (And maybe people did and I wasn’t listening).
I still carry around those notes every day in my planner. And there have been many days since then when I have needed those reminders!
3. Have enough faith in yourself to pursue what you love
After having worked as the director of two summer camps for people with disabilities, I trained to be a school teacher.
While I enjoyed working with most of the children, I was never happy in this job. I would spend Saturday afternoons in the Borders cafe reading career books and taking their little quizzes trying to figure out what I was good at and enjoyed.
I never thought I’d have the courage to go into business coming from a family of teachers and factory workers. I am so unbelievably grateful that I did.
What do you really love doing? What gives you more energy and confidence? When does the passage of time seem irrelevant?
4. Forgive yourself and forgive others
- And be as loving as you possibly can be to your family.
Good family relationships were not always a strong point in my life. I was closer to my father during my teen years. When he was dying of cancer, his one request of me on a New Year’s Eve sharing a beer and watching Peter Sellers (Inspector Clouseau) was to ‘keep in touch’ with my mother. That was it. Keep in touch.
After that, I slowly started to appreciate all the little things my mum had done while I was growing up and thanking her for them. A few years later, I thanked her for the interests she introduced me to (reading, travelling, films, coffee, good food) and character traits we share.
I apologized for things I had done or said over the years – I took responsibility for those things rather than blame others or circumstances. This gave me a lot of freedom to forgive myself and her and take ownership. By focusing on all of her positives, her imperfections diminished and merely reminded me that I was a flawed human too.
Ultimately, many relationships in my family have improved because I’ve wiped the egg off my face and made them higher priorities. Life is too short to hold onto resentment, anger – and fiction (some of what we ‘remember’ is our version rarely based on all the truths).
5. Acknowledge non-perfection and keep growing and learning.
I had only been in business about three years when I remember a lawyer complimenting me on how much I read. I hadn’t noticed. What I realized was the desire to keep growing professionally and a love of learning new ideas could be enormous competitive advantages – not that that was why I did them.
Having recently seen Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck speak, and having read the life-time of research in her book Mindset, it reinforces how few adults believe they can make significant changes to their skill levels. I find it very empowering to know that we can.
Personally and professionally, it helps my relationships to be open to myself and others that I always have room to improve. I still struggle at times because it is human to try to look flawless in front of others. It helps me to be aware of my weaknesses and to avoid using them as excuses.
What are five lessons you’ve learned about true success for you?