In 2018, the nonprofit think tank Populace surveyed a representative sample of 3,000 men and women in America about success. The survey respondents were first asked what they thought society’s definition of success was. It’s no surprise they said society thought money and prestige best represented authentic success. But then the survey took a different turn.
The think tank asked then the survey respondents if they completely or mostly agreed with society’s definition of success. Only 18% said they did. Interestingly, 40% of the respondents said they agreed with society’s definition of success—at one time—but now they no longer agreed with it.
The overwhelming majority said their personal definition of success included happiness and achievement. Surprisingly, 74% said society thought “someone who is powerful” is successful, but 91% said they personally believed “someone who is purpose-driven” is successful.
Here’s the kicker: The vast majority of us believes that everyone else thinks someone who’s “rich and powerful” is successful, but simultaneously we personally believe that “personal fulfillment” is essential to success.
If we acted on what we really believe, then we would focus on our personal fulfillment. Sadly, most of us don’t do that.
Gallup tells us that two-thirds of the American workforce is “not engaged” at what they do. They show up and do what they’re supposed to do, but they are not engaged at what they do—because they are not fulfilled by what they do.
When I graduated from college, I wanted to get a job. As a result, I got just that—a job. Since I wasn’t particularly excited about what I did, I wanted to be credentialed at what I did. I figured if someone told me I was excellent at what I did, I would enjoy it more. I was wrong.
Since that time, I’ve learned to act on what the survey respondents revealed: I wouldn’t become fulfilled by being excellent at just anything; instead I would become excellent by being fulfilled by my own thing.
As an executive coach, I have had many clients who were successful at what they did, but didn’t feel fulfilled by what they did. Excellence in their career did not necessarily produce fulfillment. Instead, they wanted to find something they would feel fulfilled by—because they intrinsically knew fulfillment would produce excellence.
The same is true for you. Authentic success is fueled by a perspective that enables you to use your own specific motivations and abilities to mold your circumstances.
Now, I’m not telling you to “follow your heart” or any other saccharine nonsense. But we often don’t believe enough in ourselves to discover—much less pursue—what we would be most fulfilled by.
You don’t need to be credentialed to be authentically successful. You need to be the most authentic version of you to become authentically successful. Because you don’t need permission from someone else to succeed.
To become authentically successful, it’s important to do these three things—in this order—without asking for permission first.
1. Be who you should be
Authentically successful people do not look for someone to tell them that they are worthy of success. They know it internally first because they know who they are. They aren’t interested in what other people think—because they aren’t interested in others’ definitions of success. As a result, they focus on being who they need to be internally before they focus on anything else externally.
2. Do what you should do
Authentically successful people don’t need to look at a benchmark to know what to do. They aren’t concerned about what everyone else thinks looks like success. They do what they know should be done without having to be told what others think should be done.
3. Go where you should go
Authentically successful people don’t need to be told what level they should strive to—because they are focused on their own standard of success. They do not look for a credential to tell them that they have achieved a certain level of competency because they are not looking for external affirmation.
You will not achieve authentic success by seeking what everyone else thinks is success. Pursuing what everyone else says is success will ring hollow for you. You will achieve authentic success by becoming who you were made to be, doing what you were made to do, and going where you were made to go. And you don’t need anyone else’s permission to do that.
Soooo … are you an authentic success?
Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC and the Chief Executive Coach of Impactful Lives.