Jan 292012

The Hardest Part Of Success

The Hardest Part Of Success

When I work with coaching clients or give speeches, I often get the question (or some variant thereof), “What is the hardest part of success”?  As you know, “success” is a loaded word and can have different meanings for different people.  In fact, my opinion is that the hardest part of success is figuring out what “success” means to you.  Once you know that, you can make a plan to achieve it.  Until you know that, you are “shooting in the dark”.  Here we will tackle what it takes to become successful, not all the challenges you’ll face once you “get there”; that’s a story for another day.

So, how do you define success?  Many people, at least initially, believe that success is a destination.  They believe it’s like arriving at an all-inclusive resort in Fiji or some other tropical locale; once you get there, all is great and you don’t have a care in the world.  Or they may think of it as reaching a certain net worth level.  Or they may believe that once they have certain material possessions or they break a certain sports record, the will have achieved success.

In my experience and my observation in working with clients for more than twenty years, success is not a destination; success is a journey.  The key to making that journey “successful” is defining what truly matters to you.  On a personal level, you may find that what really matters is developing and maintaining deep, meaningful, and connected relationships with your loved ones.  This would include creating and sharing many memories together.  In business, while you may acknowledge that the end goal of all capitalist enterprises is to deliver a “good” return to their shareholders, you may also want to make a positive difference in the world.

What really matters to you is, of course, by definition, a very personal thing.  The problem a lot of times though, is that we live for what matters to other people, rather than what matters most to us.  Whether we realize it or admit it, a lot of times the actions we take and the choices we make are to gain the approval of others.  Society will think more of us of we do this or that.  My parents will think more highly of me if I become a doctor.  My spouse will love me more if I just can do this one thing.  I’ll be more attractive to others if I can just lose this weight or make some cosmetic alteration to my body.  Since we have not taken the time to figure out our own definition of success, we let society and other people figure it out for us.  That is a big mistake.  In fact, it’s an almost certain recipe for never being happy and never feeling “successful”.

In the spirit of keeping this article relatively brief and digestible, rather than going into a lot of the psychology of what you confront in trying to achieve success, let me give you a few questions you may want to ask yourself.  These questions should help get you on the right track as you approach the hardest part of success, which is figuring out what it means to you.

Ask yourself the following questions and make sure that you answer them honestly.  If you don’t, the only person you will be cheating will be you.

What am I passionate about?  Think about those activities and subjects that raise your energy level when you participate in them, or even when you just think about them.

What are my favorite memories?  If you think back on the memories of your life, which ones make you smile the most?

What am I most proud of?  What have you done in your life that makes you proud?

What do I want my legacy to be?  What do you want to be known for when you’re gone?

Where can I make the biggest contribution?  Think about this in the context of business and your personal life.

What do I want to learn?  Consider those things you’d like to learn that you’ve just never made the time to pursue.

What do I want to see?  What places would you like to visit in your life?

There are many more questions you can and should ask yourself, of course, but this gives you an idea of the conversation you may want to have with yourself as you’re thinking about “success”.  It also makes clear something that you already knew, but may have lost track of:  success is not one-dimensional and it is not all or nothing!  What you do or don’t do in one area of your life does not make or break your chance of being successful in other areas of your life.  Remember, what you’re looking for here is your definition of “success,” not society’s or someone else’s.

What will you need to do, see, experience, create, and contribute, in order to feel successful?  Bear in mind, it will not happen all at once.  But until you tackle the hardest part of success, which is defining what it means to you, it’s hard to know if you’re headed in the right direction.  Get started by asking yourself these questions.  Then, start making it happen, step by step.  As the old adage goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.  Take that first step.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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  • Dawn

    I decided to do this very thing last year when I read the book Launch! I guess it is a refining process. What I thought last year was successful, I look at a different way once I have reached the goal. I agree with what you wrote! Thanks for sharing.

  • Great post. I always believed that success means different things to different people.

  • Ali Davies

    I am a big believer in creating your own definition of success and living it so I really enjoyed your post.

    One of the questions I would add to your list would be:

    “What are you core values?”

    Orientating your life, business and relationships around your core values is an important part of creating a meaningful success definition so getting crystal clear on what they are, I feel, is essential.

    Once core values are clear it helps with decision making, direction, goals and whole load more stuff, not to mention increasing a sense of fulfillment and meaning in all areas of life.

  • Pingback: Success! Everybody Dreams of it, but What Does it Really Mean? - IGG - tips, tools and tantalizing ideas | IGG – tips, tools and tantalizing ideas()

  • Mallie Dein

    Wow! Very well said. If we don’t know exactly what it is we’re working toward, we can’t effectively build toward accomplishment!

  • Excellent point, Ali. Core values are extremely important.

  • Joel Carter

    Paul: The key questions about our own goals are so important. Too many times we do not give enough time and focus on our personal goals. How they blend with the professional goals often becomes a blur with small companies. Why do we focus on pleasing others at the expense of a balanced success that incorporates our feelings and our definitions of success. I’d like to read the unabridged version of this article. Good basics to ponder.

  • Christine Brady

    Hi Paul,


    The point about our passions and finding out what makes us excited is a really great way of narrowing down “passions” – that is such a tough subject to pinpoint for most people.

    But, the question of “what makes you excited to work on” or, for me, “what keeps you up late at night because you’d rather work on it than sleep!”

    Those passions will lead to success, however you define it.

    Thanks for the great food for thought…

  • Agreed, Joel. Personal goals must come first!

  • Thanks, Christine. It’s so important to discover your passions and try to build your life and your business around them. It’s not easy, but if you can make it happen, it can be magical.