What does it mean to be successful?
As a teacher, I spend a lot of time preparing students to “be successful in life”.
Sometimes they mistake this for only following one path: go to college and get a stable job.
I’ve had students challenge me, fight back against what they see as the status quo they’re being guided towards. It’s pushed me to really think about what I means when I say I want them to be “successful”.
The best definition I’ve found so far comes from Derek Sivers. This author, speaker, musician, former circus performer and self-proclaimed “student of life”, provides his thoughts on success in a Tim Ferriss podcast interview.
He starts with an example of a well-known successful person: Richard Branson, founder of over 400 companies with a net worth of 5.1 billion. He then asks the question:
“What if Richard Branson’s goal was to lead a quiet life but, like a compulsive gambler, he couldn’t stop creating companies. Is that still success?”
This raises the point that many struggle to understand: success is about more than just external factors of money and fame, the internal matters too.
From this, Sivers offers us a two parted definition of success:
- Master your emotions and actions – Internal happiness and meeting your own goals is the most important first step towards success.
- Help lots of people – Money doesn’t make you successful but helping others is the key. The more you help, the more successful, as long as #1 is met.
With this as a definition, Sivers tells us to focus on developing four skills:
- Mastering your emotions.
- Knowing what other people want in general and what you want in specific.
- People skills so you can see things from others perspectives and communicate with them.
- The ability to focus, to learn and to apply what you learn.
These are skills that are hard to master, but that’s why success is a goal worth pursuing.
Think about how you model these. Think about how you teach them. But more importantly, think about what success means to you.