Photo by Ran Berkovich
1. Other People’s Definition of Success
In the words of Srinivas Rao, host of The Unmistakable Creative podcast:
“At some point, I realized that I had to give up other people’s definition of success. This is one of the most difficult things to give up because it is so deeply embedded in our cultural narratives that it becomes the standard by which we measure our lives. Even as entrepreneurs we have collectively agreed that fame and fortune are the markers of success.
But, giving up other people’s definition of success is incredibly liberating and ultimately leads to the fullest expression of who you are and what matters to you. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s a daily habit of comparing less and creating more.”
“Success” doesn’t just mean what the larger mob of society says it means: lots of money, fame, and fortune. Many people with fame, fortune, and money have terribly empty, imbalanced lives.
Your success isn’t defined by what other people say.
No one can define your success but you. If you continue to let others tell you what success is, you’ll never reach it. Even if you did, it wouldn’t be a true success, because it’s not what you really valued.
No, living an extraordinary life means defining your own version of what success is. You can begin to spend your time on what really matters to you.
- Do you really want 1,000,000 Twitter followers?
- Do you really need to be in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list?
- Do you really want to be a New York Times best-selling author?
Or is your version of success more nuanced, more narrowed, more focused, more specific?
If you want to live an extraordinary life, your definition of success must be your own. If we are always chasing what other people tell us to, we’ll never experience true success.
Let go of other people’s versions of success. Define your own success, and achieve it.
That is true success.
2. Looking Good
Here’s an old parable:
“Once upon a time, there was a wise Zen master. People traveled from far away to seek his help. In return, he would teach them and show them the way to enlightenment.
On this particular day, a scholar came to visit the master for advice. “I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the scholar said.
Soon, it became obvious that the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to listen to what the master had to say. The master calmly suggested that they should have tea.
So the master poured his guest a cup. The cup was filled, yet he kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the table, onto the floor, and finally onto the scholar’s robes. The scholar cried “Stop! The cup is full already. Can’t you see?”
“Exactly,” the Zen master replied with a smile. “You are like this cup — so full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”
Most people believe they already have it all figured out, yet wonder why opportunities, luck, and success continues to elude them.
Choose to become a student first, and success will find you.
If you want to look good — if you want everyone to think you have all the answers — then you’ll fooling all of them and yourself.
True success comes from knowledge, humility, and becoming a student of your craft. You can’t have that if you insist on looking like you have all the answers.
“The most successful people I know are not busy. They’re focused.” -Jeff Goins, best-selling author
How you spend your days is how you spend your life.
A lot of people love being “busy.” They wear it as a badge of honor. When you ask them how they’ve been, what’s the response? “I’m so busy,” they lament. But it’s a subtle brag. They like the feeling.
But when you’re busy, you don’t really do anything — just because your calendar is full of meetings, appointments, and commutes doesn’t mean you’re actually making any progress towards your true goals.
Are you focused, making tangible action steps towards what truly matters?
…Or are you just “busy?”
When you’re busy, you are on autopilot. You can’t see the hours slipping away, time you’ll never get back.
But when you choose to be focused — to spend your time and energy on achieving your true goals — that’s where the magic happens. That’s where focus turns into flow states, hyper-focused mental efforts to make fast progress.
Most people prefer the emotional boost of bragging about how “busy” they are, instead of actually doing the real hard work. Choose focus, not busyness.
4. Entertainment and Distraction
“Successful people don’t see it as ‘free time.’ They see it as the only time they have to do the things they really want to do in life and they don’t take a minute for granted.” –Nicolas Cole
Reinvesting your free time is one of the most important ingredients to your success.
If you’re working a full-time job, with a commute and family and bills, you don’t have a lot of free time. If you’re like most people, the precious little free time you do have is spent on entertainment and distraction, not learning and growing.
This is low-level thinking, and it will lead you to a, frankly, low-level life.
But true success requires sacrifice. A common misconception many of those sleep-when-you’re-dead hustle-entrepreneurs claim is that you need be working all the time.
The truth is, you need to work your butt off — for a time. After you’ve spent the time creating your life, you can sit back and enjoy the work you’ve done.
I like aimless free time, and it’s important no matter who you are or where you’re at.
But if you want to make great strides and achieve a truly extraordinary life, you need to reinvest your free time into learning new skills, putting in the work, and being productive.
It won’t last forever. But you need to put in the time now, so later, you can have the life you want.
5. “Kinda-Good” Opportunities
You can do amazing things with your life — but only if you have the time to do them.
When my wife and I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English, my #1 goal was to become a full-time writer by the end of the 12 months.
During that year, I was offered several high-paying, interesting jobs:
- Youth basketball coach
- Career coach
- Private tutor
- Remote data analyst
- Musician for a church worship group
But in the end, none of these kinda-cool opportunities would help me achieve my #1 goal. On the contrary, they’d take up what little free time I had.
I said no to all of them. By the end of 12 months, I was making a full-time income as a writer. I had a signed book deal, tens of thousands of new followers, and I was getting hundreds of thousands of views each month.
There’s great power in saying no to kinda-good opportunities. There’s also great consequences if you spend all your time on the merely “good” opportunities — it means you won’t have time for the truly great ones when they come.
Good things come from sacrifice.
If you want what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done. It’s to start sacrificing the right things so you can have a better future.
Don’t let anyone define success but you. Stop being “busy,” and start being focused. Don’t worry about looking good, concentrate on learning all you can from everywhere you can. Spend your time wisely, because many things want your attention and energy. Make sure they’re the right things.
This article first appeared on Medium.
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