To build the future that you want, you first must have a pretty good idea of what that future looks like. And, whatever the specifics of that future, the chances are that future you envisage is one filled with success. But, envisaging a future filled with success raises an interesting question: what exactly is success?
The fact is, 'success' is something you hear a lot about. It's everywhere. Apparently. It's in the newspapers, on the sports field, on the big screen, in the board room. It's in glossy magazines. It's on your neighbour's driveway, and it's on white sandy beaches and cruise liners. Sometimes, it seems, success is everywhere but in your life.
But is that true? Is success really everywhere but your life? Is success really something that only other people experience? Or do you just not properly understand what success really looks like?
So, what does success look like? Or, rather, what does success look like for you?
You see, success is a personal thing. Just like beauty, success is in the eye of the beholder. It's not something that a glossy magazine, newspaper, reality TV show, movie, clothes store, holiday commercial, or even your neighbour can define. Only you can define what success looks like for you.
And that's because there is no one thing that defines success. What looks like success for one person may look like nothing at all to someone else. In fact, this clip from the movie 'The Family Man' (that I've used elsewhere on this blog) captures how two people can have such different views of what makes success perfectly...
Yet, despite the fact that your definition of success is unique to you, everywhere you look, the messages that surround you try to shape your idea of what success should look like: fancy houses, fast cars, flashy watches, snappy wardrobes, stellar careers, and holidays in paradise. And, sure, for some people, maybe perhaps for you, success may look like that, or at least like some of that. But it might also look nothing like that at all.
And, if success for you does not look like the commercials, glossy magazines, TV shows and movies would have you believe it does, then trying to achieve those things in your own life is pointless.
If you try to achieve a version of success that doesn't line up with what success looks like for you, you'll always end up living a life that doesn't fit with who you are - a life that is uncomfortable and unfulfilling - an interpretation of the one you were meant to live.
But you weren't meant to live an interpretation of your life. You were meant to live your actual life - the life you were made for. And, to do that, one of the things you have to know is what success looks like for you, so that you focus on things that matter to you and build the future that you want.
So, what does success look like for you? Is it the fancy house, fast car, flashy watch, snappy wardrobe, stellar career, or holiday in paradise? Or is it something else altogether?
Pause for a minute to think about that because, if you are to build the future you want - that you really want, not the one that the messages all around you tell you that you want - you have to know. But how do you do that? How do you filter out all of those messages and focus purely on what truly matters to you?
Well, start by removing yourself from the world for a moment or two. Imagine that no-one can judge you, mock you, or influence you in any way, and picture your perfect day. Picture a day where everything is just as it should be - a day where it is just not possible for life to get any better. A day where everything you could ever possibly dream of is perfectly aligned and in place. What does that look like? What does it feel like?
Hard to do, isn't it? Well, maybe think about some of these things to get you started. In your perfect day:
• How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
• What are the important relationships in your life?
• Do you have a partner, kids even?
• What are your relationships like?
• Where are you living?
• What job are you doing, or if you aren't getting paid for what you do, how do you spend your day?
• What are you doing in your free time?
• What car do you have?
Some of the things may not apply to you at all, so don't even factor them into your day. And there may be a whole range of things not in that list that are important to you, and will feature in your perfect day, so include them. Remember - this is personal to you - no-one gets to tell you what your perfect day looks like.
Of course, when reality bites, it's quite likely that you will never actually live that day. Not in a single 24-hour period, anyway. But you can get close.
Whether those things that you would be doing in your perfect day are spread across days, weeks, months or even years, happening a little bit here and a little bit there, or come back to back in a constant stream in a single 24 hours, when you know what you want, you can take steps to make it happen.
And that is success.
So, how different is your view of what success actually is from what you thought success looked like? Compare that picture of success - success as it really is for you - with the picture of success you've carried around all these years - the picture based on what you've seen, heard and been told. What are the key differences?
It's worth thinking about that for a while, so that you can unpick those messages that have influenced your actions, your relationships, your behaviour, and your view of yourself, and replace them with messages about success that actually make sense, and mean something, to you.
What Does This Mean for You? Well, if you don't know what success looks like, you can never achieve it. With any journey you may take, you start out with an idea of where you want to end up, and your journey towards success is no different. When it comes to achieving success in your life, you need to know where you want to get to before you start going there.
And that means that you must understand what success looks like for you.
Once you know what you are trying to achieve, you can start to put in the work that will be required to make it happen. But you also need to be aware that what you see as success today may change. As your priorities change, as you step into new opportunities, and as your experience of life expands, so the things that define success for you may evolve.
So don't define success today and the blindly pursue whatever that looks like. Keep revisiting it - keep redefining success, so that your view of what success is always reflects who you are, and lines up with who you want to be.
And, when you have settled on your picture of success, use it. Use it to imagine your future - not just that single, perfect day, but every day. Only then will you begin to build a future that you truly want to live.