We all want to be successful—but how do we know when we’ve succeeded? That depends on your definition of success.
Too often, we have a one-dimensional idea of success. We think success is all about achieving important goals or winning important competitions. The results of those achievements are typically more money, renown, and/or power.
A better definition of success
A successful life is multifaceted, because life is about more than gaining recognition and money. It’s about relationships, finding our calling, enjoying life’s pleasures, making a difference in our world, and leaving a legacy.
The Harvard Business Review studied the question of what real, lasting success looks like and came up with four critical components.
- Happiness – feelings of pleasure or contentment, which may be found in work, relationships, pursuit of hobbies, etc. For example: playing a game of basketball with friends.
- Achievement – accomplishments, recognition, achieving goals (personal or work-related), mastery of skills, winning awards, etc. For example: Playing in a basketball tournament and achieving a new personal best in scoring three-pointers.
- Significance – activities that make a positive impact for the people or organizations you care about. For example: Regularly playing basketball with your kids and their friends.
- Legacy – helping others find future success through passing on your values, knowledge, or achievements. Delegating and nurturing rather than protecting your personal power. For example: Coaching a youth basketball team and helping kids master skills and attitudes that will help them succeed (in life and basketball).
If we devote our time and energy to one or two of these components while ignoring the others, we will not find lasting satisfaction with our lives. Therefore, a successful life is one that intentionally includes activities from all four categories.
“Research into success has shown that one of the biggest causes of failure is an overreliance on one’s greatest strengths. Are you favoring what you do best and neglecting your need for fulfillment in all four categories?”
How to develop multidimensional success
Here are some key concepts that will help us develop a balanced and satisfying version of success.
Success isn’t always big and important. Rather, we often find large doses of pleasure from seemingly trivial tasks like taking a walk in the park or playing a game with our grandson.
A balanced life doesn’t mean giving equal time to each of the categories. Some goals are more difficult than others, therefore they require more time and effort. Likewise, we find balance by devoting just enough time to each component to enable us to feel successful in that area.
Some activities build success in multiple categories. When we are intentional about pursuing activities that combine categories, we win bigger. For example, If you love soccer and decide to coach a youth league you are creating success in happiness, significance, and legacy.
Sometimes activities are incompatible, thus we must make tradeoffs. We cannot simultaneously achieve our work goals and build family relationships. The first is important for our Achievement category while the second is important for the Significance category. Thus both are necessary for a successful life, but we can’t have both without tradeoffs. To achieve multidimensional success, we must set limits on each area, to allow intentional time for the others, too.
Another layer of multidimensional success
We can achieve goals in each of the four components—Happiness, Achievement, Significance, and Legacy—in various aspects of our lives. Specifically, we should focus on achieving satisfaction in ways that impact ourselves, our families, our work and our communities.
Consider the Achievement category. To thrive, we need to feel satisfaction in achievements that fall into each of those segments of our life. We may be so focused on achieving goals at work that we forget about achieving meaningful goals in other areas of our life, such as calling our mother once a week, helping the library achieve it’s community involvement goals, or meeting our personal exercise goal for the week.
Putting it all together
I hope I have convinced you to reconsider your definition of success. When we embrace the idea that all four of these are necessary for a well-lived life, we no longer feel guilty for spending time on the seemingly trivial—but actually critical—activities that enhance the Happiness, Significance, and Legacy categories.
Where are the holes in your multidimensional success? Take some time this week to consider each of the four components and assess how satisfied you are with personal, family, work, and community achievements in each of them. Readjusting your time and focus so you can fill in the holes will enhance your overall life satisfaction.
Lisa E. Betz is an award-winning author, motivational speaker, and unconventional soul. She shares her quirky mysteries and thoughts on the joys and challenges of living authentically at lisaebetz.com.