Much like happiness, comfort and the best ingredients for homemade pizza, "success" looks different for each person. Thanks to society and the media, though, we're often exposed to very few versions of success, including wealth, fame and a picture-perfect lifestyle.
While there's nothing wrong with these achievements, following such narrow definitions can be detrimental, both professionally and personally. Subconsciously, these visuals influence you to work toward other people's depictions of success, instead of your own.
"If you're trying to act upon someone else's standards, [you'll] likely be less satisfied if you achieve those goals," explains Julie Cohen, P.C.C., executive coach and author of "Your Work, Your Way: 7 Keys to Work-Life Balance". The most meaningful victories, after all, are those that align with your wants and needs.
If you'd like to establish what success means for you, consider these five strategies for creating a definition that's all yours.
1. Know Your Core Values
According to Cohen, the first step is understanding your core values. "Your values are the beliefs and principles that shape how you want to live your life," she says. "Making choices based on your values will likely lead to greater satisfaction and effectiveness because you are doing what is important to you."
A simple way to clarify your core values is to write them down. You can also brainstorm ways to incorporate these values into different areas of life, such as work or personal relationships. If you need some inspiration, check out this handy list of 500 core values.
2. Question Your Assumptions
Reflect on your beliefs about success. What do you assume success feels or looks like? Often, such ideas stem from outside sources like advertisements, and our parents. But by challenging these underlying ideas, you'll realize how you instinctively measure progress.
Remember, to define your own version of success, you need to re-mold your existing definition. It's a type of mindset change that requires examining the beliefs and thoughts that are already there.
3. Consider the Comparison Trap
As you work through the tips in this list, be mindful of using society (or social media) as a benchmark. Otherwise, each strategy might be molded by someone else's standards.
To guide clients through the comparison trap, Cohen asks questions to help them understand what they're doing and whether it serves them. She'll ask, "How do you feel when you compare your achievements to other's achievements?"
Consider your response to this question. If it doesn't provoke positive motivation, Cohen recommends focusing on your own goals, priorities and preferences. "Comparison usually slows you down [in] achieving what you want and makes the process more difficult," she shares.
4. Celebrate Your Accomplishments
Take time to honor your accomplishments thus far. It will illuminate your own personal path to success, especially if you feel clouded by the triumphs of others.
Now, this isn't about inflating your own ego; it's about acknowledging your skills, milestones and talents instead of dwelling on what you haven't done. By regularly recognizing these victories, you'll discover a personalized blueprint of what success means for you.
5. Imagine Your Future Self
To further understand your brand of success, Cohen recommends doing a "future self" exercise. Imagine yourself in the future—three, five or 10 years from now—and write a detailed description of what is happening.
"[Write down] what you've accomplished, how you spend your time, who you work with, your lifestyle, your stress, much as possible," suggests Cohen. Once you've created a description that sparks excitement, you can use it to define success and set short-term goals to get you to where you want to be.
Exploring your own definition of success is a thought-provoking practice. Yet, even as you gain clarity, remember that life is constantly changing. Your version of success might shift next month or next year—and that's okay. What matters is that you're working toward progress that aligns with your needs, goals and wishes.