“You’ll spend 86,400 hours of your life at work,” I told a college-aged audience, “and in the wrong job, EVERY SINGLE DAY WILL FEEL THAT LONG.”

86,400 hours is a low estimate, of course.  It omits all the time you spend getting to work, returning from work and then, middle of night, worrying about work.

I asked each audience member to complete, in writing, the phrase, “I will be successful when . . .”

It’s a tough question.  There’s no right answer, just your answer.  What’s important to YOU?  How do YOU define success?

I got 50 answers, which I later grouped into themes.  Some may surprise you.

1) Money. Ok, not surprising, but there were plot twists.

I will be successful when:

  • I no longer have to worry about money.
  • Money is not the purpose.
  • I believe I don’t really need money to be happy.

2) Achievement. A big one for me.  I like the feeling of crossing things off my list, even small things like “get 5 green bananas.” (I’m very serious about bananas. My wife, who’s more carefree about fruit, thinks I may be “obsessed.”)

I will be successful when:

  • I feel like I’ve worked my hardest.
  • I accomplish something that I thought was impossible.
  • I rise above myself every day.

3) Impressing others. Hmm, this one is hard to admit. I may still be trying to impress my father.  That’s not easy; he died 15 years ago.

I will be successful when:

  • I’ve truly made my parents proud.
  • I can buy my father a Rolls Royce. Or a private jet.

4) Leading/collaborating. A toxic culture can kill you, but job-seekers often overlook the people-environment. I remember a client company where everyone looked tense.  And I felt tense too!  It was the sort of place where you’d never even think about bananas.

I will be successful when:

  • I serve as a leader to others around me.
  • I stop competing internally with my colleagues.
  • I enjoy the people I work with.

5) Making a difference.  Another big one for me. In my late 20s I wrote a purpose statement; it’s been an anchor ever since: communication that entertains and/or enlightens.

I will be successful when:

  • I’m making a positive impact in others’ lives.
  • I serve the best interests of those who depend on me.

6) Love the job. Yes! Although not necessarily every minute.

I will be successful when:

  • I enjoy what I do because that means I have the motivation and ambition to do it well.
  • I wake up wanting to go to work.
  • I know this is the job I want forever. The “forever” feeling.

7) Misc.

I will be successful when:

  • I own a dog.

Tip:  What version of success are your chasing?  Turns out, it’s easy to chase someone else’s version.

Summer is almost here.  A good time to reflect on what really matters.  To you.


P.S. ARE YOU SUCCEEDING every time you speak — whether giving a presentation, talking to clients, or muttering to yourself? Consider:

Virtual workshop—I’ve been leading Dynamic Speaking, a four-session course for small teams. We practice how to get heard, get remembered, and get results.

Webinars—e.g. Stories that Work; The Power of Presence; Your Point?—Be Concise; Resilience @ Work . . . Click here for all 12 programs.

1-1 Coaching—Got an important, upcoming communication? I’ll help you with design (what to say) and/or delivery (how to say it with presence). Click here for details.

PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful.

Latest book: You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World  Selected by a Fortune 50 company for their book club, translated into five languages, available in print, kindle, audio.

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