Defining Success, Part 2.  In Part 1, we talked about how I came to some key realizations about the true nature of success.

All and all, I think “success” boils down to three key points:

1. Being able to spend time doing meaningful things.

2. Living adventurously: constantly undertaking interesting and exciting tasks.

3. Being a positive influence on others.

At this point, I think it’s easy to say “isn’t this just a question of semantics?  Who cares what you say ‘success is’, especially if it’s so broadly defined in the first place?”

Actually, I think that success is probably best first understood as a broad definition, as opposed to narrowly.  Trying to define success in terms of niche interests is meaningless, unless you happen to share that same interest.  Would you find my advice helpful if you were a teacher who liked their job, and I told you the best way to be successful was to quit your job and go start a business?  And even if you did share that same interest, defining holistic life success purely as success in one category is equally meaningless, and cunningly misleading.  Even if you did want to start a business, would you really be naive as to think that starting a business would be the only thing that would–or could–make you feel satisfied?

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This article is the first in a 2-part series on Defining Success.  This article discusses how I figured out that 1.) defining success in a tangible, specific way is very important, 2.) my old definition of success was causing me huge problems.

What defines success?

It’s a bit difficult to write about achieving success and happiness without really clarifying what success is.  At first, I considered this issue to be irrelevant and trivial, and more of a discussion of semantics than anything else.  The more I thought about it, I came to a couple important conclusions:

  1. A poor definition of success causes one to make misguided decisions that make happiness more difficult.
  2. A poor definition of success likely ensures failure.

I realized that having a solid, workable definition of success was actually a prerequisite to actually attaining success, rather than simply an argument over semantics.  I realized this–and discovered the true definition of success–because my old definition of success almost completely burned me out, and nearly destroyed some of the personal relationships that I hold most dear.

How I discovered the true definition of success

As a beginning graduate student in August of 2011, I started school with some very lofty thoughts.  I wanted to succeed in each of the following:

  • Obtaining excellent grades in my Masters of Taxation program.
  • Studying for the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), and getting into one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools.  I intended to attend law school after my Masters program concluded.
  • Studying for the GRE (another graduate school entrance exam) to have the option of attending a school to receive a Masters in International Relations.

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I wrote this blog, R.C. Thornton- Intelligent Personal Development, as a comprehensive personal development blog that seeks to answer one question:

How can we be successful in our lives?

Throughout college and beyond (from where he recently graduated), I obsessively pursued learning more about this topic, and realized a few important things:

1. Successful people have a distinctive set of traits, mindsets and skillsets that most people do not.

Of course; that didn’t take rocket science to figure out: successful people are different.  It’s what I figured out next that was the most interesting revelation:

2. It’s actually not that hard to gain those skillsets.

I don’t mean this in a “get rich quick scheme” kind of way, as if to say we can all go quit our jobs,make $182.34 an hour peddling stuff online, and be guaranteed that it will all somehow work out in the end.  Rather, I realized that that the reasons we (including myself at one point) think success is so hard to achieve is because we often try to change our actions without understanding the underlying beliefs that are the core directors of the way we act.

That is, the idea that:

Mindset Inspires Action!  

Mindset inspires action is the idea that, at first, it’s more important to focus on the way we think about problems and the problems in our mindset that hold us back, rather than worrying about the specific action steps needed to improve.  In other words, by changing our latent thoughts , our actions will naturally–or more easily–follow next.

I’ve embodied this philosophy in this blog’s first and guiding article, the main idea.

What exactly do I mean by mindset inspires action, and how is it different from how many approach personal development?  Let me tell you the story of the beginning of this philosophy, and how thinking about public speaking developed this idea:

How “Mindset Inspires Action” Came to Be

One evening in December 2011, I was at a good friend’s Christmas party.  As was customary, the first order of business was to raid the bar.  An hour into the party, I had  drank 3 gin and tonics with cranberry juice (an oddly good combination, you should try it), and was in a state of slight inebriation which allowed me to easily ponder and opine about the world.  As I stared at the melting ice in my translucent-purple drink, I had a striking thought.  My friend Peter, who I often spent late nights discussing interesting topics with (at least they seemed interesting after a bottle of wine), was standing next to me.  I asked him:

“Peter, don’t you think it’s odd how people try to learn public speaking?”

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This article is Part 2 in a series of articles about spending your time the way you want.

Productivity is consistently completing value-added tasks with minimal inefficiency.  That means:

  • Doing things that matter,
  • All of the time,
  • Without wasting time or resources.

Mastering productivity matters to varying degrees to people in different fields.  But if you want to be successful spending your time the way you want, mastering productivity is a must, since your own efforts are the sole impetus for your success.

You’ve probably read articles on productivity before.  Before writing this article, I Googled the term “productivity tips”, and about 5.5 million results showed up.  That’s a lot of productivity tips. 

So what’s different here?

Many articles on productivity are exactly that: tips.  “6 tips to increase productivity”.  “5 ways to check your e-mail with more efficiency”.

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The people we spend time with are key to our development and a major force in shaping our personalities.  The power they exert over us is omnipotent, and almost unfair.  Think of children born in a bad community–where they have no way to choose a different peer group–who are pressured by the community to join gangs as young teenagers and wind up in jail before their eighteenth birthday.  When you think about it, there’s really nothing different about them from us: they just happened to have terrible influences guiding their decisions.

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Recently, I’ve gone through some interesting transitions in my life that have made me evaluate my ideas on how to achieve success.

My recent experiences have led me to discover 2 things about life and success that even this lover of all-things-personal-development had never really contemplated before.

I’ve concluded that the ability for one to be successful comes down to mastery of 2 broad categories of skillset:

1. The importance of relationships.

2. The importance of setting goals.

I think most people “know” that these are important, but either misunderstand them (as I did).

These 2 attributes are, in fact, a precursor to The Main Idea, wherein I write that the key to success is a thorough understanding of the proper mindset needed for success, and the corresponding actions that are influenced by that mindset.  Being unable to master these likely means the inability to even aspire to accomplishing great or interesting things with our lives.

But I won’t bore you with anecdotes.  Let me tell you how I came to this conclusion:

I recently moved to Hartford, Connecticut from Phoenix, Arizona, where I just received my Masters in Taxation degree from Arizona State University.  I moved here for a number of reasons.  For one, I wanted to be with family who lived out here.  Second, I was interested in exploring the East Coast business climate (Hartford especially enables this possibility, given its close proximity to Boston and New York.

Third, and most important: I was getting the sense that life in Phoenix–where I grew up–was becoming too “simple”.  I was becoming too contented with my surroundings, and  I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I needed to.  I think living and staying in an environment that is overly comfortable and familiar can do that.  In a sense, I was becoming a bit lazy–at least lazier than I wanted to be.

So I threw myself into a new environment, and decided to see what would happen.

I didn’t come out here cold-turkey.  I had a place to stay, and I knew what I wanted to accomplish: I want to start a tech company by the end of the summer.

The 1st Key: The Importance of Relationships

While back in Phoenix, I could rely on the various resources and connections I had made throughout my high school and college days, out here in Hartford, I am a nobody.  But I expected that, and it is something I resolved to change.

So I started doing what I do best: thinking, analyzing, and problem solving; trying to figure out how I could take my current situation.  I’ve read 3 or 4 books since I’ve been out here (it’s been 2 weeks), namely Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi.  Keith’s book stresses the value of relationships in accomplishing goals and achieving success, and how lacking in that area will likely ensure one living an unsuccessful and unfulfilling career.  He recommends a rigorous, methodological system for finding, befriending, and providing value to (and receiving value from) contacts.

Some people criticize this as being too manipulative or conniving with relationships.  But think about it for a second: how do relationships help you?  If you want to advance in your career, emotional support , or to be in on a new business opportunity: who’s going to help you: people you know and have relationships with, or strangers?

On reading Keith’s book, I realized two important things:

a.) Just how valuable relationships are, and

b.) I had never really spent any time developing them before.

This was especially apparent in Connecticut, where I know fewer than 5 people.  It was clear something needed to change.

I’ve written consistently about how to reach out to others, how to network, how to use personal branding, how to build personal credibility.  What I failed to realize, though, is just how important it is to actively and consistently use relationship-management techniques.  

Today, I:

  • Use Excel sheets to map out all of my contacts, including my priorities with them (do I want to befriend them?  What value can I provide them?  How can we work together?)
  • Spend a significant amount of time researching contacts, and figuring out how to make a meaningful entrance into a community.

And it’s paid off.  I’ve met some excellent people in Hartford; I’ve begun to make the business connections essential to starting a successful business.

One of my next articles will cover relationships and their importance in greater detail.

The 2nd Key: Setting Goals

We’ve all heard this one before.  I’ve even written about setting goals here on RCSays.  So saying “you should set goals” is hardly anything new.

But, in the past, I was contented with undefined and grandiloquent goals: “someday, I want to start a tech company”; “I’d really love to get involved in politics…it will happen in the future”; “it would be great to become involved in philanthropy”.

In his book, Ferrazzi writes a story about a young college-matriculating Bill Clinton, and how Clinton would always carry a black address book to write down information about every contact he met.  Once, Clinton even pulled out the book and started writing down details about a new acquaintance as they were talking.  When the acquaintance asked Clinton, “what are you doing?”, Clinton confidently replied, “I plan on running for Governor of Arkansas, and I’m meeting and remembering people now who will be important to know when I run”.

What struck me (as you know, Clinton did succeed–twice–in becoming Governor of Arkansas) was the specificity of his goal.  I realized that’s what had been missing in the way I set goals.  I realized: a goal that is not measurable or that does not point to a specific outcome isn’t a goal at all: it’s just a recipe for frustration and a feeling of failure.

So I resolved to never again approach achieving success and accomplishing goals in the whimsical way I used to look at it.  Today, I have very specific goals.  My 3 professional goals are: 1. working as an entrepreneur in the tech sector, 2. working part time as a public speaker and writer (as I do here), and 3. working in philanthropy, specifically by using my public speaking abilities to promote important causes.  And I have specific deliverables for each of those goals; I make To-Do lists on a daily basis outlining how my actions today will lead towards my long-term goal.

What can you take away with my story?

1.) Realize the importance of relationships and setting goals.

Look into your own life.  Think of where you want to be, and the things that seemingly keep you from getting there.  I daresay that those biggest things will be 1.) your perceived lack of connections, and 2.) “not knowing” how to get there.  My advice is to immediately make specific goals for yourself.  In a play off of mindset inspires action, your determination to get to a final end-point will lead to you naturally doing what is necessary to get there: just like me with my tech startup- I don’t know exactly how to achieve success, but my determination to meet people and set goals means that I’ll figure it out soon.

2.) Realize the importance of the things I’ve talked about on this blog: living a meaningful, exciting, interesting and fulfilling life.

The importance of being motivated and proactive with life: the idea ofenvisioning oneself as successful and working on a daily basis to accomplish meaningful goals.  

It also means smartly approaching goals, and scaling your efforts so that you can maximize your upside potential, but mitigate the pains of failure.

3.) The value of constant learning and improvement, and keeping a disinterested attitude.

My dedication towards constant learning and constant improvement allowed me to develop the conclusions I write here.  I think it can do the same for you.

Keep living well, and pursuing nothing but the best for yourself in life!

Photo Credit: By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons