What is Success?

What is Success?


Regular readers of CareersinAudit.com, will, by now, be fully familiar with my habitual call for your own personal definition of ‘success’. 

But did I ever tell you how to actually do it?

This article will take you deeper into the meaning of personal success.  What it means for you, in your career, and in your life.   And I’ll introduce you to a set of principles that can truly take you there....


Success is....

Success, n – ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’, ‘a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc’. 

So says the dictionary definition.  Note the magic words ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’.  Without one of these, how could you achieve success?  You’d never know when you got there!

The commercial world provides us with a valuable analogy here. In an article¹ for Harvard Business Review, Professor Clayton Christensen points out that business strategy is determined by the types of initiatives in which an organisation chooses to invest. If a company’s resource allocation process is not driven consciously by purpose or vision, what emerges can be very different from what management intended. Quite simply because investment, naturally gravitates to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate return, as opposed to those that might be  more in keeping with long-term intent.

And Professor Christensen goes on to make the link that most individuals do not set out with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced, for example.  Yet that’s where a significant proportion of us end up.  The reason, he explains is a failure to ‘keep the purpose of our lives front and centre as we decide how to spend our time, talents, and energy’.

He concludes ‘clarity about purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence......’


But what is it to YOU?

‘As you climb the ladder of success, check occasionally to make sure it is leaning against the right wall’. (Anon)

There is no right or wrong as to how we define our success. It’s subjective.  What success means to you is likely to be different from what it means to me.  

‘Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.’ Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.

So many of us get hung up on somebody else's idea of what it means to be successful – our parents, our peers, our friends.  Is it then so surprising that we bask blissfully unaware of what is truly important to us? Each of us is different. They tell us that’s what makes us human! So we all have different aims and priorities, and that means different activities and attitudes will make us feel fulfilled.

So self-knowledge is the critical factor in achieving personal success. Role-models are important in helping us map out our aspirations but these same role models may have basic values that are quite different from our own. It's vital to recognize any discrepancy between what we have been told or taught and what we personally believe to be important.  If we spend our time and effort trying to meet somebody else's idea of success, and ignore our inner conflicting messages, then we find ourselves frustrated and unhappy. Realising what is truly important to us is a major step towards achieving personal success. 

To find out more about your own personal drivers, email me at info@theaccountantscoach.com and request your Personal Values Profile. 


"Success is a journey, not a destination." Ben Sweetland²

So, we’ve determined the foundations of success: establishing and achieving your unique objectives or purpose, aligned with your own personal values.  Now let’s tackle the building blocks of success, through....

The Seven Orientations of Success³

These are your core principles.  Each of the orientations is of equal importance.  Embrace all seven to get to get to where you want to be.

  • Future orientation means having a vision.  It means being able to answer the question, ‘where do you want to be in 2, 3, 10 years time?’ It means thinking about the future rather than the past.  And it requires a strategic approach rather than instant gratification or short term rewards. 
  • Goal orientation is characterised by investing time and effort in the ‘how’ of achievement.  Problem solving rather than making excuses.  Turning visions into actions.
  • Result orientation is about managing your resources to achieve the best possible outcomes.  It requires canny time management, lateral thinking and skilful prioritising.  Understanding your highest value activities, playing to your natural strengths and single focus, are all key here. 
  • Solution orientation needs a ‘can do’ attitude, a certain amount of optimism and the ability to learn from setbacks.  It requires creativity, resilience and persistence. 
  • Excellence orientation is a commitment to lifelong learning.  It’s getting to the top and staying there.  Once achieved it boosts your self-esteem, confidence and self-respect, all of which will take you higher.   You don’t have to be excellent at everything but you do need to choose an expert niche, a differentiator, a USP in something that the market will pay for.
  • People orientation.  This means relationships – both business and personal.  Success is under-pinned by happy, healthy, fulfilling relationships that sustain and support you through every aspect of your life and career. 
  • Action orientation requires a sense of urgency to get things done.  As success is largely a matter of probabilities then more you do the more you are likely to achieve.  No place for procrastinators!


Avoid the ‘Marginal Costs’ Mistake¹

Accountants among us will be familiar with the principle of investment evaluation where we ignore fixed costs, and base decisions on the marginal costs and revenues.  But beware of employing this principle in your personal life, the ‘just this once’ path. Professor Christensen exhorts ‘it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to ‘just this once’, based on a marginal cost analysis, you’ll regret where you end up.......You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place’.

Sobering thoughts for career decisions in hard times. 

Jim Rohn4 sums it up beautifully with:  ‘success is not so much what we have as it is what we are’.


¹ ‘How will you measure your life?’ by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, published in Harvard Business Review July 2010
² Ben Sweetland is best-selling author of ‘Grow Rich while you sleep’.
³ I first came across Brian Tracy’s Seven Orientations of Success as a coach on his Platinum Mentoring programme.  You can read more in his books, including the highly recommended ‘Focal Point’.
4 Jim Rohn - motivational speaker, philosopher & entrepreneur


This article was written by Carol Mclachlan exclusively for CareersinAudit.com, the leading job site for audit vacancies.

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