What Does Success Mean to You?


Most of us seek success. Is there anything wrong with that? Let’s face it, success is better than failure. Winning is better than losing. But high performers can also seek success for the wrong reasons. In addition to creating plans and goals to achieve success, I believe it’s important for high performers to understand why they seek success. Self-aware people understand their motivation. If you do not understand your motivation, success may actually defeat you at some point after you achieve it.

How Do You Feel When You Succeed and Fail?

The worst reason to seek success is to feel worthy as a person. If you must achieve success in order to feel good about yourself, your self-esteem will always be tied to external events. To find out if you fall into this category, examine how you feel following an unsuccessful performance, speech or meeting. It’s normal to be disappointed, to spend time examining how you could have performed better, and to feel a little down for a while. But if you find yourself feeling embarrassed, angry or depressed for a significant period of time following disappointment, your self-worth is dependent upon success. That’s a dangerous and very unhealthy situation.

How about when you are successful on a given task? Following success, do you feel worthy and competent, or do you gloat about being a bit better than others? If gloating is your style, you are comparing yourself to others in order to determine your self-worth. Alternatively, if you are not better than others or superior to them in some way, you don’t feel good about yourself. This is an equally dangerous and unhealthy situation.

Using Success To Compensate

Many very successful people are driven by a need to compensate for a perceived weakness. They may have grown up in poverty and decided they will never lack for money as an adult. They may have suffered from learning difficulties in school and were told they weren’t smart. As a result, they vow to make more money than all the “smart kids” they grew up with—regardless of the way they earn their wealth. Some people worry they are not attractive and that accumulating a great deal of power and/or money will make them desirable. Others may be uncomfortable with their body image and be driven to eating disorders on their road to success. Remember the old adage “You can never be too rich or too thin?” A long list of insecurities drive a great deal of successful people. A perceived flaw or insecurity operates like a huge hole in the soul regardless of how successful one becomes. Performers driven by compensation feel empty regardless of their accomplishments. No amount of success will fill the hole of insecurity. There is a never-ending quest for more success because the last accomplishment never fills the void.

The Difference Between Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

If you see yourself in this post thus far, don’t despair–there is a way out. You do not have to keep chasing success only to remain perpetually unsatisfied. The key to enjoying success without being ruled by it is to understand the fundamental difference between self-confidence and self-esteem.

Self-confidence will vary somewhat based on your success. Notice the word “somewhat.” It’s natural to be in a bit better mood following success than failure. It’s okay (and normal) to feel a bit lower self-confidence following a disappointing performance. But in healthy performers these ranges in confidence are slight. For example, if self-confidence is rated on a scale of 0-10, you should not feel like a 2 after disappointment and a 9 after success. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts (How Do I Get in the Zone? & Prepare, Perform, Evaluate), if you are competing at the right level for your abilities and you have prepared properly, you’ve earned the right to be confident–regardless of the outcome. Of course, you don’t enjoy failing or losing, but defeats don’t destroy your underlying confidence if things don’t turn out as planned.

If you are experiencing wide variations in confidence based on success or failure, you are likely confusing self-confidence with self-esteem. Self-esteem is based on how you feel about yourself as a person. What kind of father, mother, sister, brother, partner or friend are you? Is your behavior driven by values and morals? Do you believe in something bigger than yourself? If you fundamentally feel good about yourself, your confidence will not vary greatly based on the outcome of a given performance. If your confidence does vary greatly, it means you have given the outcome of any given performance the power to determine how you feel about yourself as a person. Your success determines your self-esteem. That’s why the hole in the soul is never filled. You’re perpetually driven to find more success to feel better about yourself, but success is never enough. Even worse, there’s often a tendency to resort to any means necessary to achieve success, only to find the effort futile.

There is nothing wrong with desiring and pursuing success. The danger is needing to be successful in order to feel good about yourself. Pursue excellence for the right reasons and success will follow!

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