I am lucky in my job because I frequently get to talk to the people I work with about success. There is one thing that consistently comes from theses conversations; the majority of people I know think that success is linear. They climb the “ladder of success” or “work their way up the corporate chain” or “are trying to get to the top”. I really believe that this way of thinking does not set you up for success; in fact it makes the ultimate goal look too far away and gives you no concrete plans on how to make it to the top.
Success is a cyclical process of events that will repeat themselves over and over again until an ultimate goal is achieved. Once that ultimate goal is achieved then the cycle starts over again with a new focus and purpose. There is no top of the chain or final step, just a chance to recreate your success in a new and innovative way. The cycle of success is made up of four parts that happen in order and then regenerate into a new cycle. The four parts of the cycle are risk, challenge, opportunity, and then success.
Anything worth going after in life involves some risk and definitely involves a commitment. This means that you have to commit to the risks in which you are about to take. By taking risks we open ourselves to many different possibilities. It is when we are committed to these risks that the possibility for success really begins. If there is no risk involved, no sacrifice, then there is no success; you are simply doing something that you already know how to do. By staying in your comfort zone you become a rat in a maze and chase the same cheese every day. While you might accomplish what you are searching for, you have in no way achieved a success because you have already been there. But, by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and walking into the arena of uncertainty, you create a challenge, which is the beginning of the pathway towards success.
The challenge is what lies ahead of you and is what causes your uncertainty. This challenge will have you question things about yourself and create certain levels of arousal. This arousal is your body’s way of telling you that you are entering an area that it has not been to before (thus outside of your comfort zone) and if the arousal gets too high it becomes anxiety or stress. The most important part of the challenge is to make it achievable, but not easy; this will allow you to stay away from detrimental stress and anxiety while using your elevated arousal levels to your advantage. A challenge (think goal) where the outcome is questionable but achievable is a positive and motivating entity that will ultimately allow you to really feel your success and therefore learn from your journey. When you hit the point of challenge you have to ask yourself “is this something I can achieve if I apply maximum effort?” When you can answer yes to that then you are ready to face the opportunity you have created for yourself.
Once you have taken the risk to set an appropriate challenge, you now are facing opportunity. Opportunity is something that you create because you put yourself in a position to accept it. Nobody can give you an opportunity. Opportunity is a choice. There are times when opportunity arises through an outside source, but you are the one who put yourself in the position to grab it and it was offered to you because of what you did to get there. Nowhere in history has someone been given an opportunity that they didn’t deserve. They took risks, challenged themselves, and someone saw that and decided they deserved that opportunity to further prove themselves. By accepting the opportunity you face all of the adversity that comes with it. Any opportunity worth pursuing will not be an easy road, as you will face times where you think you cannot get it done, but this comes with the territory. You get the chance to empower yourself and make decisions that will directly lead to the success or failure of what you are trying to achieve.
Success is a direct reflection of your ability to make the most out of your opportunity. Notice I didn’t say that success is accomplishing your goal because it isn’t. Success is learning from the journey you took and walking away from it with more firepower the next time you set out to accomplish something. You cannot learn something new about yourself and not succeed because these lessons will carry over to your next risk. Through your journey you will know certain things about yourself that you did not know going into it and that by all means is a success, if and only if you use this knowledge to better yourself in the future. The “satisfactory completion of something” has nothing to with external accomplishments; it has everything to do with internal conflict and resolution of that conflict. Believe me this is true. You can break a sales record for the month in your office and still come in second to someone who had an even more amazing month. Does this take away from your accomplishment because you came in second? Does this mean you were not successful? In every Olympics someone breaks a World Record and comes in second. Does this mean that they failed? By being focused on outcome alone the answer is yes. By looking back at the journey it took them to get there and the effort it took them to achieve such great heights, the answer has to be no, they didn’t fail, they were successful because they accomplished something and became stronger in the process.
Success does not have a defining point where someone can look at you and say you are successful, success is something that you feel, that you get to experience, and that you get to share. It is taking a risk and riding it out to a decision that you get to deem a success or a failure and then having the courage to take another risk and start the cycle over again. Don’t get me wrong, you can be the wrong person in the wrong situation and fail miserably. I’ve seen it happen. But does that mean you are a failure? No, it means that you took the wrong risk, the wrong challenge, and the wrong opportunity, but success is to be defined with what you do from the information you gained. Do you sit on your experience and make the same mistakes again, or do you make the necessary internal changes and come out on the other side the next time? You decide.