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The Proverbial Ladder: Are You Climbing the Right Wall?

26/07/2013 11:56 BST | Updated 25/01/2016 10:59 GMT
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Climbing the ladder of success is a double-edged sword. We think we have our eye on the prize and spend all our time, energy, resources and focus on reaching it, but we're at the top, there is a chance we might find it was leaning against the wrong wall.

Freshly pressed out of university, my crew were seduced by the corporate milk round. By that point we were already chasing an idea of success defined by the establishment, which included:

  1. A massive pay check
  2. The material possessions it could buy
  3. The lifestyle that it could afford

Freshly squeezed into the back office at Goldman Sachs, I soon realized the high-flying graduate pay check would never be enough to compensate me for what was required: a zillion hours of work, three PC screens, rude traders, and a bottle of wine a day to cope. I saved for three months and did what any self-respecting idealist would do: travel.

Already I knew I was against the wrong wall, however I would find the right one less than two years later after recalibrating my idea of success, and what it means to me.

To avoid a shock at the top of the ladder, you can define your own metrics for success that go beyond material wealth, and enable you to live your life on your own terms.

Why? Because seemingly softer metrics are more influential in determining the quality of our life experience.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I really want? - Hint: You can buy it with money.
  • What does success mean to me?
  • What difference can I make?
  • Optional: What is my impact on the heart of humanity?

At 22, I already knew that money would never be enough, but there were no role models I could relate to. That's all changed now.

A New Breed of Success

Being successful involves doing good things, and it's 20 and 30- somethings leading the way. Their success comes from not only climbing the right wall, but building the wall from scratch; creating a model of life and success on their own terms. Says Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms, and author of Start Something That Matters:

People are hungry for success - that's nothing new. What's changed is the definition of that success. Increasingly, the quest for success is not the same as the quest for status and money. The definition has broadened to include contributing something to the world and living and working on one's own terms.

He's part of a new breed of entrepreneur demonstrating that working on your own terms and defining metrics of success that go beyond material wealth can be a force for economic AND social good:

  • Toms - For each pair of shoes bought, another is sent to a child in developing countries around the world
  • Sseko Designs - making beautiful sandals with interchangeable fabric straps began as a way to create income for high potential, talented young women in Uganda so that they could continue on to university
  • Revolution Apparel - developed a one-size-fits-most garment that can be worn over 20 ways in protest about the wastage accumulated by the fashion industry
  • Escape the City - dedicated to helping talented professionals escape or avoid jobs at big corporations
  • We'ar Yoga Clothing - a collection of conscious clothing with yoga principles at its heart

How to Define Your Own Metrics for Success

Your metrics for success are unique to you. Don't be judged by someone else's idea of it. Everything you do has an unlimited metric spectrum, from just showing up or getting started, to revolutionising the way we live.

They can be personal, global, or anything in between. They can be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or any combination of these.

The success for your career, project, or business can be measured against how we feel AND the impact that it has on others.

How do you want to feel?:

  • Physically
  • Mentally
  • Emotionally
  • Spiritually

What would you like others to?:

  • Feel
  • Think or believe
  • Do
  • Have

On what level do you want to operate or effect change?:

  • Personal
  • Local or community
  • National
  • Global

Out of all of the above, which are the five most important to you?

Now take your current job, career, project or business and measure it against these five metrics.

You now have a pretty good metric system against which to measure your success.

  • If you're not climbing the right wall, find a new one, or build your own.
  • If you're against the right wall, maybe a ladder change would up your game.
  • And if you're on the right ladder against the right wall, keep doing what you're doing.