We all crave to be successful – but what does “success” mean? Many of us believe that success brings happiness with it but that is often not the case.
I always remember a quote from the American author, H. Jackson Brown Jr., about the difference between those two terms – “success” and “happiness”, it went like this; “Success is getting what you wanted. Happiness is liking what you got.”
More than anything else, success is an attitude. We all have differing measures against which we measure how successful we are. For some that is money and possessions, for some it is power, for others it is fame – the list is almost endless. Whatever your definition of success is and however you measure it, in retirement you are more than likely going to have to re-evaluate your definition and measurement criteria.
How can you suddenly shift to “happiness” in retirement if you have been unhappy all your life? If you are approaching retirement with the perspective that you will be happy once you get there, chances are you won’t be and that could be a huge jolt to your system. You see, the way you think and feel about yourself, including your beliefs and expectations around “success”, will determine everything that happens to you.
When you change the quality of your thinking, you change the quality of your life, sometimes instantly. Just as positive words can make someone smile or a well-timed humorous quote can make someone laugh, our thoughts react to the world in real-time. Often, the wider views of society dictate what the mainstream population thinks that success looks like. Which is one of the reasons that there are so many “successful” people out there who are desperately unhappy. They have passionately pursued the populist “success” dream – they have fame or fortune or power or possessions, but they still feel unfulfilled and, as a result they end up not liking what they got.
I recall a situation several years ago, where I was presenting to a group of would be entrepreneurs at a hotel in Sydney. There were about 300 people in attendance, and I was awaiting my presentation time slot from the back of the room. I had just been fitted with my headset microphone and had about ten minutes before I was to go on stage, to share with those in attendance some key negotiation skills. The presenter that was currently on stage was in the process of wrapping up his presentation when he asked the audience a question – “with a show of hands, which of you in the room considers themselves to be successful?”
There were a few murmurings in the crowd as hands started to be raised. I would estimate that about a third of the room held up their hands. The presenter continued, “so, the majority of you in this room do not consider yourself successful?” (it was a rhetorical question). Then he selected a woman in the front row of the audience who had not put up her hand.
He proceeded to have a brief conversation with her that went something like this;
“Hi, I noticed that you did not put up your hand. Can I ask your name?”
“Michelle” she responded (not her name but it will suffice for this example)
“So, Michelle” he continued, “Why did you not put up your hand?”
“Well, I don’t own my own home and I’m not happy in my job, so I can’t call myself a success just yet.”
“Okay” said the presenter “Let me ask you, do you have any children?”
“Yes, two – both teenagers!”
The presenter smiled and said, “That’s fantastic! I’ll bet raising two children is expensive and exhausting – am I right?”
“Oh definitely” was Michelle’s response. Then the presenter asked a question that shifted the whole conversation;
“Let me put a proposition to you Michelle. If I offered you one million dollars for each of your children, would you accept that? I mean you have invested a lot of your time and money into raising them, so it’s only fair that you be compensated for handing them over to me.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, they’re my children! And it would be illegal anyhow!”
The presenter responded, “Let’s pretend that it’s not illegal. In principle, would you sell your children for one million dollars each?”
“No way. I love them. What sort of a Mother would I be if I sold my kids – even if it was for a couple of million dollars!”
Then the presenter thanked Michelle and turned his attention back to the audience and said, “Let’s reflect on what just happened here. Michelle did not put her hand up when I asked who in the room considers themselves a success. She does not see herself as a success because she isn’t happy in her current job and doesn’t own her own home and yet she turned down two million dollars – enough to buy a substantial home and quit her job – because, as a mother, she could not sell her children.”
He then paused a moment before he asked the audience, “Who here thinks that working in a job you hate in order to put food on the table and bringing up two children to become functioning, valuable, contributors to our future society is the mark of a successful person?”
Here is where things got interesting, every single person in that room not only put their hand up but they rose from their seats to give Michelle a standing ovation. It was one of the most moving experiences I have seen in what was a business event.
The presenter wrapped it all up beautifully by saying, “Success can be many things, just because you are still on a journey doesn’t mean you are not successful. Everyone in this room is a success by any number of measures and for those of you that did not put up your hand when I asked that initial question, I would urge you to redefine what success looks like for you.”
Five minutes later he had finished, and I was being introduced to the audience to do my presentation. I can tell you; he was one tough act to follow! That is my challenge to you now – to redefine what success actually is for you because without a serious run at that you are likely to end up not liking what you got and, let’s face it, as you approach retirement age, you do not have as much time as you used to for “do overs”!
Retirement is not about rehearsals. This is the phase of our lives where we finally get to make decisions for ourselves that are not driven by the responsibilities we had during our working lives. Retirement is where you can finally transition from the pressures of extrinsic “success” to the rewards of intrinsic “significance”. What sort of life do you want to live during your retirement years?
If you are not happy – why not? If you do not feel fulfilled, what would you need to do to change that? None of us will ever be remembered for what we got but we will be remembered for what we gave. You should not fall into the trap of defining success through the lens of other people and by that, I mean, that you should be the one defining what success means to you. For example;
A lot of people measure success in monetary terms – the more money they make or have, the more successful they believe themselves to be. However, whilst money is a nice thing to have, it does not really define success. There are many, many people who attain financial wealth that are unhappy with their lives.
Then there are those who take on a definition of success dictated by their family – trying to reach academic and sporting goals, getting the “right” job, marrying a “suitable” person. Often, in wanting the best for us, our families unwittingly put pressure on us, and we can easily end up with a life that our family believes we should be happy with but which, in fact, leads us to feeling trapped and unfulfilled.
Society also plays its part in forcing upon us definitions of success – through such things as advertising, media, movies – social media can be an extremely harmful element in this regard with streams of seemingly endless people all having a blast and enjoying success.
Real life is very different though and it is this disconnect that causes a lot of people to suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of not being able to measure up against such impossible standards. However, seeking the approval of others should not be a motivator in driving your definition of success. Sure, it is nice to be acknowledged for your accomplishments, but to actively seek that, and to make it one of your primary drivers, does not lead to success. In fact, having the need for that approval is born out of insecurity and you cannot hope to “feel” successful if that is the case.
In entering your “retirement” years you are entering a new phase in your life and, like any new phase of life, you are going to have to push yourself to accomplish everything it takes for you to achieve whatever you define successful as being. In doing this you will be able to experience what few other people in this world will be able to feel- the ability to enjoy your success in life.
Almost all forms of success bring the pleasure and pride of achievement with them, but few will taste as sweet as success that is self-made and that is defined by you. It is truly an amazing thing to be able to look at your successful life, which includes your passion, your dream, your ability to live the kind of life you want – including your financial security – and know that it was you who achieved it!
Few people have only themselves to thank for the amazing life they live. This feeling is worth more than any money or material possessions you can think of. It is a feeling that can only be experienced through the success of independent effort. Not everyone is able to take on the challenge and develop an independent mindset – even though everyone has that potential.
There has never been a better time in world history for individuals to establish their own aspirations and work towards achieving them. The informational world we live in has created a world of amazing opportunities! Success must be defined in your terms. As we advance in years we should, hopefully, begin to establish our own definition of success and have the confidence to aim for that. Only then will you truly be able to enjoy your success because then, you are going to not only get what you want but you will also be happy with what you got!
Dennis Hall is an Author, Presenter and Business Development Coach who helps others break free from the routines they have trapped themselves in, so that they are able to enjoy a less stressful and more fulfilling lifestyle, especially in their latter years.
He can be contacted through his website at https://dennishall.com.au