How to Become an Overnight Success (Really!)

For many people, success is a moving target.

You think you’ll feel successful when you get hired or promoted or win a big award.

You imagine success can be measured by zip code or blog subscribers.

You remember saying to yourself, “If only I could…” and then when you did, it was overshadowed by what you didn’t.

One of the great lies of our civilization is the harder you work, the more you achieve, and the more successful you’ll feel.

 It rarely works that way.

I know, because I’ve been there.

Anyone would have looked at my life two years ago with envy.  I had a PhD to my name and was selected as one of the top scientists in the entire U.S. Air Force.

I had great bosses who loved my ideas and were prepared to open doors.

Unfortunately, what really got me excited was the thought of taking a day off.

All the accolades and promotions couldn’t overcome the sense that the life I wanted for myself was passing me by.

What I learned the hard way is that success isn’t something you toil to achieve, it’s something you discover and unleash.  And it’s much easier than you think.

You may have heard there’s no such thing as an overnight success.  Not true.  You just need to follow these four simple steps.

Step 1: Define your core values

Your core values shouldn’t resemble the mumbo-jumbo most corporations develop.  As Steve Pavlina says, “Values are priorities that tell you how to spend your time, right here, right now.”

If you’re yearning for something better, it’s not that you haven’t achieved your grand success yet.  More than likely, you’re not living in accordance with your core values.

For example, one of my core values is “Family first.”

To some, that might mean making it home to tuck their kids into bed.  For me it meant I wanted to be present for the large and small.  If I miss too many scraped knees or tea parties with the stuffed animals, a part of me is going to feel like a failure.

The key here is not to just pick words that seem important.  You have to define what they mean to you.

You should know whether you’re living up to your values or not.

Step 2: Find ways to be proud of yourself

From a very young age, we learn the value of pleasing others.  And because those rewards are so powerful, it’s really easy to lose sight of what makes you proud of yourself.

In fact, when I did this step myself, I was shocked to discover most of my proudest moments came from my childhood.  Apparently as I became an adult, I stopped taking the risks that were more likely to make me proud of myself.

When thinking of your moments of pride, don’t overlook the smaller moments of your life.  For example, one of my proudest moments was starting a school newspaper as a fourth grader.

I love the fact that I was motivated by curiosity and excitement, not impressing anyone.  My ability to inspire the other kids to join me and work hard on producing something of value was an early indicator that community building is close to my heart.

You don’t need someone to bestow success on you.  Once you get in touch with the kinds of activities that make you proud of yourself, chances are you can start doing them tomorrow.

Step 3: Discover your motivation

There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.  The former is when you’re motivated by the activity itself, whereas extrinsic motivation is when you’re motivated by the outcome.

For example, one fisherman might be motivated by the peace and quiet of being on the water, and doesn’t really care if he catches anything.  Another might be motivated to win the local contest and get his picture in the paper.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation aren’t mutually exclusive, but when it comes to our careers, most of us focus on extrinsic motivation to a fault.

We evaluate jobs primarily by how much they pay or how prestigious the company is.  We mark a successful entrepreneur solely by their bottom line or the celebrity of their clients.

Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with making money.

I’m all for it.

But I think we’ve got it all backwards. We chase after jobs that pay a lot and hope we like them. I think we should chase after jobs we love and hope they pay a lot.

The best way to do that is to find work that satisfies both your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Step 4: Connect the dots and live it

Now you need to pull together the ideas from the previous steps and write what is likely your very first personal definition of success.

You don’t have to include all your values, motivations, or moments of self-pride–just the ones that are essential.   Mind-mapping is an excellent tool for making sense of the various pieces.

As you evaluate what to include, I tell clients to ask themselves, “If you didn’t have this element, could you still feel successful?”

My own definition of success looks like this:

First and foremost, I will infuse my family with love, kindness, and attention.

A thought-leader in my field, my ideas will inspire a new reality, not necessarily on a grand scale, but in a way that builds community and impacts the lives of those I choose to serve. I’ll feel excited, fulfilled, and energized to overcome necessary challenges and take new risks.

Creating my own definition of success changed my life.

It gave me a vision for the life I wanted to lead and the excitement I needed to pursue it.  It served as a warning light whenever my overachiever nature focused on status over serving.

Best of all, I became an overnight success.

I could stop beating myself up over all the things I hadn’t yet achieved.  I could stop chasing the numbers and start living the dream … today.

My success happens one person at a time.  One client landing the job of their dreams, one daughter eager to include me in her world, one face in the mirror, smiling and satisfied.

What about you?  Share your definition of success in the comments!

Written on 11/9/2012 by Jennifer Gresham. Jennifer is a Ph.D. scientist turned writer and career activist.  She is the author of the blog Everyday Bright and founder of the No Regrets Career Academy, where she offers free mini-course in designing a career you love. Photo Credit:
Cliff
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