5 Questions To Redefine What Success Means To You — Even When You Feel Like a Failure

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“Lately I've been wondering what does it really mean to be a failure and how is success measured,” an anonymous Fairygodboss’er shared on the community feed. “Should we look at this in terms of money or is it just about finishing something you started?”

The consensus from other Fairygodboss’ers was that success is hard to define with just a word or a few examples — because success, and failure, are both personal.

It’s easy to look to other people to try and understand what success means or looks like. Unfortunately — but also, luckily — the best way to define success is to first look inward without comparison. 

Here are five questions to help you redefine what success means to you, even if you don’t feel like much of a success right now.

1. Do you like what you do for work?

The stress here is whether you “like” what you do for work, not whether you “love” it. Many of us have been taught that we have to love our jobs for our work to be perfect. But in reality, many of us may never truly love what we do for work — mostly because we don’t love or dream of working. Focus on whether you like what you’re doing at work most of the time. Do you like your projects, your daily tasks, your team and your routine? 

If you don’t like what you do for work, use this question as a guiding principle to figure out what you might like out of a job. Think outside of the boxes of industry and field. What kind of work do you like to do? Do you prefer working independently or are you more collaborative? Do you like being on your feet? What kind of routine or hours do you want to work? What kind of company mission do you value?

2. Do you have time to do things you really love?

Success isn’t just about work; it’s a holistic measure of how we live our lives. Do you have passions or hobbies, and do you have time do to them? Do you value time with family and friends, and do you have time to spend with them?

If not, try to understand where the pressures on your time are and why you feel unable to do the things you really love. Is there something about your schedule you can adjust to make time to garden during the workday? Or are there boundaries you need to set, or people you can lean on for support?

3. Do you feel rested?

You may like what you do for work and have time to do what you love, but you won’t feel energized and fulfilled doing them if you don’t also have time to properly rest and recharge. Do you have the time and space to take a break when you need to? More importantly, do you feel like you have the mental space to do so?

If you feel like you’re constantly on the productivity hamster wheel, consider what would make you feel rested. Do you need more time to physically rest and recharge? Or, do you need to give yourself permission to “do nothing” and have hours or days where you don’t have set plans?

4. Are you financially secure?

Money is often the default when it comes to defining success. Yet redefining success for yourself doesn’t mean you have to try and become the next billionaire. Instead, it’s a question of whether you can meet your financial needs and have the finances to cover your lifestyle.

If your answer is no, consider what it would take for you to feel financially secure and free. Is it a matter of a raise or promotion? Do you need to look for a new position? Do you need specific training or a degree to land a job with your ideal salary? Understand first how you can get one step closer to that security.

5. Have you learned from your mistakes?

Frankly, failure is hard. To me, failure can feel shameful and even embarrassing. Reframing failure as something I can learn from helps take the stigma away and makes failing seem more positive. Yes, it’s a cliché, but for good reason. A successful person can take their mistakes, missteps or even big “failures” — however, they define them — and learn something from them, even if they don’t bounce back immediately.

Success often feels like it needs to be big to be meaningful, but there’s so much success in the little things — like liking your work most of the time, having time for hobbies and feeling emotionally, mentally and financially secure. You aren’t unsuccessful even if you don’t have or aren’t all of these things all of the time. Success isn’t static; it’s something you can continually strive for, and redefine as you, your priorities and values change. 

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for defining what success means to you? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.