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Success is defined differently for each person. To this day, when I come across someone who uses the word success to describe their career, it makes me pause and try and reverse engineer that person’s definition… and then I compare it to my definition.

And the comparison is what gets me every time.

When I was younger in my career, I used to judge other people’s definition of success. I’d consider their title, the company – both size and prestige, ponder how much money they were probably making, and determine where that landed them on my measuring stick.

Probably not that atypical, but based on where they landed in the comparison game, I would then feel better or worse about myself.

As I have gotten older and worked on who I am as a person, my own definition of success has changed and morphed into something completely unrecognizable by the definition when I was younger – in a good way, I think.  But I still have moments of comparison – twinges of jealously, questions of regrets.

At times, other people’s success has prevented me from moving forward. From taking action towards my own success. In the corporate world, it has sometimes blocked advanced to the next level or the ability to jump ship to a “better” company. In the solopreneur world, it has sometimes meant me not landing a specific client or working on a cool project.

When people give me advice or try to assist with a problem, my gut response is to consider how much I think they know on the topic – and whether or not they are successful enough to be providing that type of insight. And if not, I completely discount everything they say, roll my eyes, and nod my head.

Imagine how many awesome ideas I’ve simply ignored from people who cared enough to share ideas and thoughts with me; simply because I didn’t think they were successful enough – to my standards. I’m not sure if everyone operates this way, but I do know that it’s an easy form of entitlement or betterment – that person isn’t up to my level, so he just doesn’t know.

But what I continue to learn and practice is that success is an internal measurement only. I can’t compare what I’ve done to someone who is a big fish in a small pond, or conversely is a small fish in a big pond. I can only compare where I am with where I have been, and where I want to go.

At work, success isn’t just about your title, salary or company’s prestige. It’s about the relationships you have made, the projects you’ve delivered, the impact you leave in your wake. Now more than ever, those are the things that will propel your career ahead, those are the things that hiring managers care about. Not what you look like on paper, but what you can actually do.

It’s a work in progress for me, but here’s what helps me – and hopefully it can help you shift your success perspective.

  • When I start going into inventory mode, I shift my mindset from what have they done, to how far they must have come. Instead of being critical of their current status, I reflect back on the many things that must have gotten them to where they stand today – amazing.
  • If that trick doesn’t work and I feel that they are more successful than me on my measuring stick, I use it as an opportunity to learn from them – not get depressed or overwhelm with my “failure.” I ask them questions – what brought you there, what was a turning point for you, what influenced your current situation, and so on. Trying to pick up on themes or patterns that I can either see in my own path, or start weaving into my trajectory.
  • The hardest action is if I feel as though they aren’t up to my success standards. I see it as a huge character flaw that I am constantly working on and have improved immensely, but there are still times where that gut reaction comes back to light. If that happens, instead of rolling my eyes or discounting their viewpoint, I use it as an opportunity to learn from them – they essentially shift into the more successful category, as I ask the same questions of them.And since I’ve started doing this, I have learned more from these conversations, than any of the others. We have different perspectives, which adds so much more diversity in thought and problem solving.

It’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, but I appreciate the definition of success so much more today, than I did when I was viewed as “conventionally successful” in the corporate world. Perhaps all I needed was being on the other side of judgment, or maybe it was learning that I had control over the word. Regardless, it’s amazing to learn what it means to other people and how I can keep adding to my own set of rules.


This post first appeared on LifeAfterCollege.org.