Success models are great, but you have to decide what success means for you or risk being consumed by the goals of others. The current podcast episode helps you begin the conversation with yourself.

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I’ve been doing a series of corporate coaching sessions and in asking participants about their dreams and goals the subject of how do you define success kept coming up. It seems participants observed what they considered a successful person and then hoped to copy them thinking their results will be the same as the person they have observed. This came up in a number of ways because social media has given us all manner of models for success.

But what exactly is success? Ask a few people and they will probably give you the standard: fame, wealth, and recognition. All of that may be true, but is there more to it than that? I’ve mentioned before that we all have a tendency to imitate the actions of others, which is known as social proof, but what needs to be asked is does social proof bring personal fulfillment? In other words does following the path to fulfillment for someone else create a sense of fulfillment in you? And the answer is “NO”.

Learning from the journey of others can be useful, but you have to keep in mind that every situation is different and like it or not you have to take the life lesson presented by others and convert it into something that fits your life and your circumstances. I say that after reading an article about a successful entrepreneur who says he does not mind people stealing his ideas. He rightly points out that no matter how precisely someone may follow his pattern no two situations are the same and to make a pattern work in very different circumstances the person doing the stealing has to change, alter, and analyze where certain actions line up and where they don’t. By doing this the next person creates something that is uniquely their own.

Looking back I’m reminded of a former successful boss who told me he formed his own company so he would not have to wear a suit. Simple as that: “I formed a company so I could come to work wearing a golf shirt and slacks.” Yes, having money for him was great but overall he had a vision of how he wanted to live his life and his vision of success was being able to dress casually and still put food on the table. This is important because in achieving money, fame and recognition comes a lot of other things that you might not have been prepared for. Knowing the things that give meaning to your life helps you control to some degree “where” you want the money, fame, and recognition to take you. I guess you could say that is why many people who win the lottery often have bad outcomes. You get the money and then what? After you have all the toys you ever wanted what is the next step in bringing joy into your life?

I’ve sat through a number of training seminars watching people planning to imitate someone they consider successful. These same people tie themselves into knots following every step perfectly but often forget to consider how their basic desires may be very different from the pattern they plan to follow. This is not to say anyone should avoid these trainings, far from it, but that they require you to do some work to tailor the instruction to end up at your own destination. A one size for all does not fit all.

To use a popular phrase, you have to determine your “why”. Why am I willing to commit to these things and what will that commitment allow me to ultimately do, be, see, or feel? A great example I recently read about was a European short film maker whose latest offering got her work the attention she had always hoped for. During the interview she was asked if she now planned to go to Los Angeles and translate her success into even bigger projects. Her reply was that she did not want to be away from her family or take on the obligation of time that would require. For her the important thing was to get her films made but still be involved with the day to day of her family. I’m not saying to let yourself off the hook in terms of goals, or lowering the level of your dreams. What I am saying is that reaching a goal is not one thing but many things and you have to decide which of those many things play into the important desires that drive you.

Think of life much like planning a sightseeing trip that will ultimately end at the Grand Canyon. Taking the highway means you get to the Grand Canyon faster. However, you are going to miss all those great small towns you hoped to visit along the way. Deciding what success means for you translates to making conscious decisions on where you will get off the main highway to visit those cute small towns you like so much on back roads that may not move as fast to reach your ultimate goal of viewing the great expanse of the Grand Canyon. You may not get there as quickly but you will have great photos of all the places along the way you wanted to see.