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Success is an Asshole!

success is an asshole

Success is an Asshole

How to discover what Succes really means to you

“Success is an asshole!” I spat this sentence with contempt into the reflection of my face in the mirror. It was a New Year’s Eve, many years ago. At that time, I was still managing director at Karstadt (Germany´s largest retail corporation at that time), and I was fresh in a new city after another transfer. Despite it being a special day, as usual, I had worked long hours and didn’t return to my apartment until around seven. I felt a certain trepidation. No wonder, because it was the first time I would spend the turn of the new year completely alone. In a city that I didn’t choose, and in which I didn’t know a single person. While all over the city, parties sprang up, corks popped, and boisterous laughter seeped into my ears, my evening schedule looked the complete opposite. First, a pizza from a delivery service, a six-pack of beer to wash it down, then a little TV watching, and a toast with myself at midnight. An absolute low point in my life, because I had never felt so lonely and empty. And this was at a time when everyone around me would have described me as being very successful. This was no surprise since from the outside I was actually something of a high flier, who had taken the career ladder by storm and achieved everything that others could only dream of. There was only one giant problem: if that was true, then why was I so frustrated on the inside?

If you don’t achieve what you’d hoped to, there’s only one person responsible, and that is you, yourself. Click To Tweet

The Price you have to pay for Success

Suddenly, my negative emotions overcame me, and I became convinced that success is an asshole. Because if this was the price you had to pay for success in life, then I definitely did not want to be successful. I went to bed depressed and then stumbled back onto the hamster wheel two days later. Today, I am very grateful for that New Year’s Eve, because my absolute low point was also a turning point in my life. It was as if a switch had been dropped into my lap. I understood for the first time that my frustration had nothing to do with external circumstances but was solely the result of my own choices that I had made over the previous few years and, of course, the choices I had not made. Success wasn’t the asshole, but only I, myself. Because I had let myself be guided by a definition of success that wasn’t mine. Because I had not owned my own story for a long time, and I had oriented myself toward the expectations of others. There was only one person who could change that: me. So I promised myself that I would change myself. Not just a little, but radically. No more accepting compromises, but finally doing my own thing.

Success is always individual

This was not an overnight success, because I first had to find out what I really wanted. But the seeds were sown, and even today I am still harvesting, because I have learned three things:

  1. It’s never the shiny, blinking, and glamorous moments in our lives that shape our character. It’s the low points because these are almost always turning points.
  2. Dissatisfaction, defeat, or frustration can be extremely powerful sources of motivation if we succeed in transforming those powerful emotions into productivity and a corresponding “Now more than ever” mentality.
  3. Success is an individual thing that each person defines differently.

Yes, now it’s time to get down to business because I want to talk to you in this article about the word that I wrongly called an asshole so many years ago. No other topic has been written about in so many books, lectures, and published articles. Entrepreneur Darren Hardy has even paid it a printed tribute with one of the most successful magazines in the world.  And I’d like to now start off with a very personal question: Would you describe yourself as successful? Not so easy to answer, is it? In fact, success is much more complex than what we are always sold as a prototype in the media. I mean the fat bank account, the Rolex on the wrist, the stellar career, the Porsche in the garage, the yacht in the port of Monaco, and an overall life marked by luxury and status symbols. Look at any ad of your choice, or walk through any shopping mall, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

What does Success mean to you?

But it is precisely this definition of success—based on external factors and recognition from others—that leads more and more people to chase after goals that aren’t their own. They follow the dictates of fashion, succumbing to the temptations promulgated by modern media, and subtly but steadily move away from their own values, beliefs, and dreams. And that makes for extreme dissatisfaction in the long run, because you subconsciously feel that you are leading a life that is in conflict with your own identity.

After all, can success really only be tied to material things, external achievements, and the attainment of socially-decreed goals? Is it not also success if a single mother raises her three children while, at the same time, working two jobs and still being happy and satisfied? Is it not also success if a family decides to live far away from the big city in an old farmhouse and be completely self-sufficient? And is it not also success for a flourishing lawyer to give up his career, live on ten dollars a day as a diving instructor in Thailand, but to have finally found peace of mind through this activity? These are just three examples out of millions of others who clearly demonstrate one thing: success always comes from the inside out. For example, when we have put a project into action, achieved a goal that was important to us, or made a significant decision. Above all, success is always linked to our entire personal Change Diamond. Ultimately, it’s your identity, your values, and your beliefs that determine what really matters to you in life. Of course, money and material things always play a certain role; all those people who want to convince you that money isn’t important are not telling you the truth. But it must not be alienated as an end in itself. Because the factors responsible for happiness, satisfaction, and fulfilment are usually found on a completely different level.

The most important Question

So I’d like to ask you the same question that I also put to my coaching clients:

What does success mean for you?

I hope that you already have some clarity about what really matters to you, what drives you, and what makes your life meaningful. This will be very useful to you in answering the question, and I cannot stress enough how important this intense reflection is for your personal future. Do I have to point out once again that you absolutely must be radically honest with yourself? As always, here, too, you can fool the people around you for a while. But the person who looks back at you every morning in the mirror senses very clearly when the external appearance and the inner being are profoundly out of harmony.

Your personal Definition of Success

Now, to put our money where our mouth is, let’s have some facts: What is your very personal definition of success? Is it a skyrocketing career in a global corporation? The dream of having your own company? Or maybe a harmonious family life in the countryside with five children, a large collection of pets, and a private yard? Please ignore all thoughts of other people, extrinsic expectations, or social conformity. It is your life and your satisfaction, and thus, your definition of success. “Okay, Ilja, but I find fast cars, a lot of cash, and an international jet-setter life to be pretty sexy.” Wonderful. If money and material things are important to you, then you do everything you can to get as much as possible. But if it’s something completely different, then please give these needs the appropriate space. I myself enjoy the luxurious aspects of life again and again. I collect nice (and, unfortunately, expensive) watches, I prefer to stay in the Ritz-Carlton when travelling instead of generic motels in the commercial area, and I spend money on nothing as much as I do for good food in excellent restaurants. Each time, it fills me with gratitude that I have worked to be able to afford these luxuries. But I don’t need these amenities to be happy, and I could live without them at any time. This awareness alone dramatically increases my personal degree of freedom.

The better you know what’s important to you, the better you can also fill the empty word “success” with the appropriate content. And this puts you in the position to align your life, your job, and your daily activities in order to be successful in all these areas. In order to give you the best possible support, I’d like to offer you my success formula, which you can use for every conceivable definition of success. I would like to conclude my introduction to this chapter with a mantra that has served me faithfully quite often, and that can do the same for you. It is:

If it feels good, it can’t be that bad! Click To Tweet

There’s a lot to it, right?

Best wishes, and let me know what you think. Drop me a comment below.

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