In my blog just before the Easter holidays I wrote a light hearted piece on 'the absolute secret to success' and shared some useful tips I learnt a long time ago. But what is success? How should we measure it? Can anyone ever achieve it? In short "How Succesful are you?" This week I want to explore the topic a little further

Firstly, how should we define success? There are so many different ways, but it is my conviction that the only measure of success worth paying attention to is how we measure ourselves. If, when we look back, we see that our achievements match (or exceed) the ambitions we had when we began our careers, and if we are truly happy, then we may consider ourselves ‘successful’. However, this is for many people far too simplistic.

In my opinion, the only truly successful people are those who can honestly think of themselves as successful, who are doing what they want to do, earning an income they are content with, and who thus want for little more from life. There is no reason why a bus driver working in the rainy north of England cannot be just as successful as the CEO of a medium-sized business in southern California. This argument is not a trendy copout; it is an appreciation of the fact that our own feelings are the only ones that truly matter.

When judging our own success we might be tempted to compare ourselves with former classmates, comparing job titles, wage packets, holiday destinations, etc.. But although they may have similar socio-economic and academic backgrounds, their personalities and expectations may vary enormously. One may always be striving for more money, power or fame, while another may be perfectly content with a modest family car and a comfortable 25-year mortgage.

Life partners can be notorious when it comes to reminding us of our shortcomings and can thus make us feel like a failure, even when others consider us to be highly successful. Sometimes a reality check can be distinctly useful, but if your partner’s reminders become habitual they may eventually bring about the downfall of your relationship or become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is unless you are so mentally strong that the criticism is like water off a duck’s back. But to be honest, I have met few people who are that thick-skinned.

However it never ceases to amaze me how many of us have elaborate ambitions for the future, but never take the time to make a detailed plan as to how to achieve them. In business, forward planning is evolving into ever shorter time frames, nowadays even the three-year plan of a CEO can be cut very short if he or she fails to hit their year one targets. Similarly we all need to have a plan that we can refer to that covers a minimum of a three year period.

Therefore in our personal careers we need to look at least two to three moves ahead, especially if we work on a project basis or if the nature of our work changes frequently.

Knowing what you want in life is a blessing, because it is then possible to construct a detailed plan on how to obtain it. But with no real vision of the future, too many of us drift on the ocean of life like flotsam, waiting to either sink or be washed ashore at someone elses bidding. Without a life plan we are not in control and our destiny lies far too much in the hands of others.

In my book 'Making a Difference' I show how you can build your own personal life and career plan and offer some other exercises on the topic of 'success in careers' that many have found very useful. 'Making a Difference' is published by Lannoo in both English and in Dutch and can be purchased here: Buy Making a Difference