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  • Writer's pictureLucy Qian

How to Define Your Own Success to Feel Focused and Fulfilled

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

“Until you take the time to define success for yourself, it is most likely being defined by others, your culture, the past, hope or advertising”

“If the client doesn’t know how they define success, they will never know when they get there.”

By Thomas Leonard, the father of coaching

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but I didn’t until now. Ever since I created my own success definition during the Laser-Focused Coaching Program, I’ve been experiencing benefits in multiple aspects of my life. I’ve also seen it make a big difference to the people around me once they reached clarity on their own success definitions. I wanted to absorb more from this positive space in order to help me better prepare for this post. But something is pushing me to get it out as soon as possible so that more people can benefit from it.

What does creating your own success definition really mean?

It means identifying your internal, personal benchmarks. It’s not about the typical external measurements such as work performance and salary. Those external measurements come and go. If you only rely on external measurements to determine how successful you are, you may never feel good enough. Your internal benchmarks may also change over time, but they are fairly consistent because they are personal and fundamental to you. It allows you to focus on you, instead of constantly comparing yourself with others.

​Over time, applying my own success definition has allowed me to feel calm, centered, and oriented. I still set external measurements to see where I am in my projects, for example, but having personal, internal benchmarks creates a space for me to weigh my priorities and value myself from a completely new perspective, especially in difficult times.

Let me use my personal story to further illustrate.

Ten years ago during my first job as an HR specialist, I was the youngest in the team and belonged to a cultural minority. I always desired to craft a perfect career path and constantly wanted to be reassured that I was on the right track and not wasting my time.

Many of my behaviors indicated that I largely associated my success with external benchmarks, to just name a few:

  • I spent more time and energy trying to find the common career path that successful HR professionals have taken than finding out what I really want for my career

  • My feelings about myself were dependent on what others said about me. If they said good things about me, I felt great. If they didn’t, I felt I must be doing something wrong

  • I interpreted “I should” as “I want.” Therefore, my agenda was always full

What did it cost me personally when I based my success on external measurements?

  • I always felt like I was chasing instead of leading

  • It felt exhausting to always focus on where I was not good enough instead of where I was good enough

  • It prevented me from receiving constructive feedback well because I took it personally

  • I didn’t celebrate when I achieved success because it didn’t feel worth celebrating

Ultimately, in those early years of my career, I watched my self-esteem decrease bit by bit. I never felt good enough about myself.

Hopefully by now you have seen the profound impact of not having your personal, internal benchmarks of success. What does it look like to define your own success? What is required to create your own success definition?

Let me introduce you the approach created by Thomas Leonard, the father of coaching.

Step 1 Identify the three most important relationships, items, traits, or elements at this time in your life. For example, how often I am carrying out challenging work, how much calmness do I demonstrate when facing big setbacks, how much I am enjoying my intimate relationships.

Step 2 Write your three things in the format of “I know how successful I am by how [fill in the blank]”. This format immediately indicates that only you can measure your success, not others.

Step 3 Take more “shoulds” out, bring more “wants” in. People always confuse what they should or could want with what they really want. Your success definition must reflect what your heart is suggesting.

Step 4 Tweak your statements so that you can literally observe and measure where you are achieving success. It requires careful consideration about the “how” part in the format above.

This may require some illustration with examples. Let’s compare:

  • I know how successful I am by how creative I am

  • I know how successful I am by how much I am enjoying my creativity

It is harder to determine how creative you are versus how much you are enjoying your creativity. How creative you are may be subject to different external measurements. But how much you are enjoying your creativity is entirely your call.

Step 5 Feel and experiment with your statement to see if it rings true to you. It’s not likely that you will have it right on your first attempt. Examine your day with the definition created and see what differences it fosters.

Here are my three success definitions. I know how successful I am by:

  • How much ease I have when moving from one task to another every day

  • How present I am both before and during a coaching conversation with my clients

  • How little I care about whether others like me

Having my personal, internal benchmarks allows me to focus on things that matter to me. For example, I am a coach, and it matters to me that I bring my best self to each coaching conversation. How can I be my best? It is all about being present. When I’m totally present with my client, I can hear what is said and unsaid from my client, I can point out what my client is not seeing but matters to them, I trust and share my intuition that I believe is going to benefit my client …

Those internal benchmarks also drive me forward every day. I used to rush at things and seldom gave myself a break during the day. In my mind, taking a break meant that “I was not productive.” As a consequence, I made more mistakes, made pre-mature decisions, felt exhausted … Setting my success as “how much ease I have moving from one task to another” has motivated me to reserve sufficient time between tasks and use it to reflect on what just happened and how to prepare for what’s coming. When I achieve that, I can enjoy my day much more.

Finally, having my own success definition also assists me in making decisions that bring me closer to success. For example, it took me quite a while to eventually publish my coaching website. I made multiple excuses to not do it. But I realized that what really held me back was my desire to be liked by others. I was afraid that people would not like me anymore if they found my website not good enough. Realizing my fear and considering it in the context of my success definition of “how little I care about others like me,” I was able to let it go and move forward. I knew that it was a test to my success definition.

Over time, applying my own success definition has allowed me to feel calm, centered, and oriented. I still set external measurements to see where I am in my projects, for example, but having personal, internal benchmarks created a space for me to weigh my priorities and value myself from a completely new perspective, especially in difficult times.

Now it’s time for you to define your own success before it is defined by others! If you choose to go ahead, I’d love to hear your story. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out.

If you like this post and would like to receive such lessons and insights drawn from real life stories, you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Your email address will NEVER be rented or sold.

Lucy Qian

Life Coach


About Lucy Qian, International Life Coach

Lucy’s clients say that she has a superpower for helping them see clear direction and next steps, no matter how confused they are in the beginning. Through coaching with Lucy, they become clear about who they are and know what they really want.

Lucy is a certified coach in different settings: Professional Certified Coach (PCC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF), Certified Laser-focused Life Coach by the Life Coaching Group, and Organizational Coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.

In her blog, A Journey to Clearness, Lucy shares life experiences and lessons from her practice as an international life coach.

Learn more about Lucy Qian.

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