In today’s culture, success is often thought of as “having something” or achieving a certain level. How do you define success? Have you taken the time to consider the aforementioned question? If so, congratulations! You are one of very few people who have determined what motivates and inspires you to live the life that you live.

Success is often subconsciously thought of in the context of the five P’s: pleasure, prosperity, power, prestige and position. Unfortunately, despite attaining these things, one often ends up feeling empty and unfulfilled. There are also often regrets at the end of careers/life. Sometimes leading to emptiness, depression and unfulfillment. Is this truly success? I would argue that it is not. If it is not, then what is success? It is a question that each person should answer for him or herself. There are many reasons why we are challenged and often do not take the time to define what success means. One reason is that in our society, we are conditioned at an early age to go to school and get a great education. We are often encouraged to follow education attainment by finding a secure and high paying job, buying a home and getting a nice car.

There is no real consideration of what is important to an individual. Because of this, while in college, a person might major in something that conceptually offers the opportunity for a higher level of compensation, rather than something for which there is passion.

It was interesting for me when our son changed his college major from Finance to Communications. I immediately thought what he was doing was unwise, and that it would not allow him to maximize his potential. The assumption was that he could make more money and get a greater understanding of economics if he majored in Finance. Why did I think this way? Societal conditioning is the answer. It took me a while to refocus and realize that I was reacting based on my personal conditioning.

What is conditioning? Conditioning is subtle, and it begins to occur early in life. It is subliminal and impacted by experiences with family, community, school, church, workplace, etc. It is made up of the way we view the world based on past actions, experiences and exposure. Habit development is a key component of conditioning. We do what we do and see the world the way we do because of what we have experienced or done in life. It can also be materially impacted by daily media exposure.

Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. This advertising is often effective for the marketers. However, we rarely realize the impact that it is having on us. Think of a jingle related to your favorite product. You probably would not have any problem singing it. This is an example of conditioning. Conditioning can lead a person to subconsciously make decisions that are uncharacteristic of them. For example purchasing clothing that you do not need with money that you do not have. Conditioning can also lead to seeking or defining success in a way that is wrong for you.

Success is achievable if we define it for ourselves, and if we are intentional about aligning our idea of it with purpose, vision and mission. This is often easier said than done. It is rare that we think of purpose, and why we are here. Very few people have gone through the process of thinking through a vision, which focuses on what this journey called life is all about. Additionally, most of us do not have a personal mission statement, which is what we will do to live out the purpose and achieve the vision.

I recently tested this theory related to a mission statement during a course that I facilitated which had approximately 85 participants in attendance. I asked the question “How many of you have a mission statement?” How many hands would you guess were raised? There were only two out of the 85 hands raised! Most organizations have a mission statement and each of us should have one as well.

How do you go about the process of defining success for yourself? In my opinion it starts with prayer and taking time for reflection. We should go through the exercise of viewing life today as if we are at the end. Let us use the number 100 years of age. What would you like to see at that age when you are reflecting on the life that you have lived? Get a very clear picture in your mind. The challenge then becomes beginning the process of painting that picture today. This will help align your purpose with your definition of success. Once success is clearly defined, we realize the importance of focusing efforts on things that will that provide the most value. We should focus on things most meaningful to us and that will have the greatest impact on those in the world around us. Legacy may become more important than having or doing, and we may begin to focus our efforts on helping others.

Our creator created us for relationship. Our relationship with Him and other people take on even more importance when we get a clear understanding of success and purpose. Jim Rohn, the author and speaker, says, “success is attracted to you by the person that you become. It is not something that you pursue.”

Defining success is a component of working on self. We often work hard on our jobs, and we periodically feel a need to help others grow and change. However, rarely do we work on self. Defining success can help us begin the process of determining why we do what we do and ultimately, what it really means. When we are clear on what success is and the why – which is purpose – it becomes much easier to cast a vision, which is what and a mission statement, which explains or remind us of how we will achieve what we really consider success.

I recommend that the entire process be bathed in prayer. The process of defining success is something that can be life changing. It can also be the impetus for living a life of purpose and leaving a meaningful legacy. Defining success is a very important component of the process of developing a strategic plan for life.