We all want to be good at what we do. But how do you define your idea of success?
We talked about who we want to be. If you have a clear vision of who you want to become, it leads to a happier self.
There are two critical things you decide and it determines 80% of how satisfied you will be with your life.
1.Your Identity: who do you choose to be? Are you the sort of person who doesn’t give up and always does what they promise?
This was what I chose as my identity. I wanted to be the sort of person I could be proud of and my friends and family could rely upon.
By having a strong idea of who you want to be, you can raise the levels of necessity. By expecting much of yourself, you can force yourself to reach levels you did not think possible.
2. Your Idea of Success: What do you strive for? What is your goal in life and how do you know when you have reached it? Is it something you can feasibly reach?
This is how you feel happiness, pride, love for yourself, and eventually meet extraordinary goals.
Remember why ordinary things are better? It’s because 98% of your life is filled with ordinary moments. Extraordinary things are totally worth it, but they only happen once in a great while.
If your goal is unattainable, it can make you miserable.
A Poor Life Metric (for Ed)
For most of my high school career, I was a slacker.
I didn’t really give it my all.
I played in band and was first chair french horn in my school, but I never tried out for all-region my first 2 years.
Then, my teacher encouraged me to really try, so I did:
And I made it!
I was 8th chair french horn player in the region tryouts as a junior in high school.
It was a cool feeling because I beat all these arrogant kids who had never heard of me. I felt really special since I was 8 out of like 25. It was in this moment I deeply considered being a band director.
At this point in time, I decided my goal would be to be the best band director I could. In my mind it was making it to all state and being in the varsity band in college.
I didn’t make all state, but I sure tried!
For younger Ed, this was a serious effort: I practiced 2-4 hours a day. I hired someone to distract me while I played! It was actually really funny, I said, “I want you to do anything you can think of to stop me playing without touching me directly or my french horn!”
I was not prepared.
I had pails of water dumped on me, ridiculous power poses performed, blare horns played at me, apples thrown at me, and boom boxes placed around me.
It taught me to concentrate, but I couldn’t hear pitch worth a damn.
Stubbornness and my dream
I really wanted to teach people how to play music, but I felt lost.
My band directors would spend hours about something I couldn’t notice (the clarinet’s were late? I came in on time, didn’t i?) or spend 30 minutes on tuning for things that I couldn’t even hear.
As such, this made me a poor band director: I didn’t have the ability to give the right directions to lead my future students. It made me really uneasy: it was like things were happening around me, but I couldn’t see or hear them.
Later, as an adult, I would feel this feeling again: I have a terrible sense of smell. My wife will mention things to me and I would be like, “I can’t smell anything?”
After the first time, I realized I just had a weaker sense of smell. Now, knowing about the growth mindset, I could probably explore ways to improve my ability to hear or smell.
But for me, at that time, I would never become a band director. I would spend hours and hours trying and spent most of it miserable.
I wasn’t focused on enjoying playing or enjoying the lovely wall of sound I experienced when playing in an orchestra. I would increasingly get scared and frustrated.
I had set my idea of success to being the #1 band director.
And I was miserably failing.
Rethinking my Idea of Success
For awhile, I was pretty lost. For me, the idea of being a teacher or band director was my driving force in life. I worked multiple jobs to get there with minimal debt. I practiced a ridiculous number of hours and then studied psychology equally as much. It was my idea of success!
And then there was…nothing.
I would never reach those goals, I decided. It was time to think about who I wanted and needed to be.
What did I know about myself?
Well, I’m quiet. Most of the time I had a quiet peace about me that was hard to communicate.
I really enjoyed learning new things because my curiosity was strong.
I loved to help other people.
I had a strong ability to love whatever I was forced to do.
I didn’t have strong physical skills, so I didn’t want to do warehouse work forever.
I loved the idea of grit and having hope when most people would give up.
So, I asked myself:
Ed, how could you achieve the most happiness in your life?
So, I chose 2 ideas to craft my success and identity around:
- Learn as much about everything as you can. But you don’t have to know everything, Ed.
- By learning more than everyone, you will always be able to help those around you. Be kind and help others as much as you can.
So, I got a job in a call center and I started learning about how I could be better.
I set a goal for myself: I would learn what every button and menu option would do in excel. I made a shortcuts excel doc at work and shared it with everyone 😍
Success! I helped someone.
I wrote thank you notes for people who helped me once a week
Success! I helped someone (yes, myself counts!).
I set another goal: I would go through every method in VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) to teach myself better ways to help my coworkers.
When I finished, I used it to build buttons to make my coworkers faster at their jobs (myself included). Yup, success again.
This earned me my promotion from call center employee to call center analyst.
See a trend yet?
My idea of success was around a process now: learning and helping others.
A Happier Idea
I encourage you to have big dreams. By no means limit your imagination!
But don’t set a requirement for your happiness to be too far out.
It’s better to reinforce your goals with your idea of success. Small wins help push you towards your end goal.
Spend some time and think about who you want to be and what success would look like if everything went perfectly for you. Try to tie these two ideas together in a meaningful way. If who you are can be tied to a goal of something that you can control internally, you’ll find constant inspiration and motivation.
Most of your life will be getting to those big goals.
It’s smarter to set your goals around the process getting there! So, be kind to yourself 😎