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How Do You Define Success? (I Needed a New System)

How would you describe being successful? What is “success” in your field of work? in your family and relationships? for yourself, personally?

I’ve been asking myself questions like this for years. “What is success?” or “How do I know when I’m successful?” or “What’s the main goal here?”

This question has been in the back of my mind especially when it comes to being a singer-songwriter. Probably because, according to the definition I’ve been using, I’m a failure! Here it is:
I have a hit song or album and have a tipping point of critical mass and make lots of money and am famous with lots of people loving my music and I make a good living from the sales and tours and acclaim. 

I’m being a little facetious. And, to be fair to myself, this definition always seemed like it was lacking something; like it was based on realities only involving economics and importance. Surely my being a singer-songwriter has been about more than that?

To push the point, by that definition I have been unsuccessful. So was all this a great waste of time and energy? What about all the great things that have come from making music? The stories and moments of connection? What do I do with those? If I should I have gone into a different field where I could have been more successful, what would that field have been? Where would that have taken me and how would I define success there?!

And this is just in the small part of my life as a singer-songwriter. Let’s go bigger- What about the other things I do and love?

During a quiet, reflective day a few weeks ago I started asking those questions again. “What is success?”

And I decided to approach things differently. I began to boil things down to a single word for each of the main roles I play in my life. A word that answers the question of “Was I successful here? Did I do all I could to shoot for this as success?”

I’m sharing this because I’ve struggled with definitions of success for years. No doubt, it’s very self-focused but I think there are things that go beyond just me here.

Here’s what I did:

1. I named the roles I play in my life. This is something I’ve heard from business books or self-help material. Understanding your energies in terms of the roles you have in life is helpful. We usually have 4 or 5 roles and if it gets beyond that things get strange. Here are my personal roles:

*Spiritual Being – Being a Christian I view one of my roles in life as being a human who longs for connection with his creator. At my core I am a spiritual being and that part of me needs attention and intentionality.

*Husband – Being a married man one of my roles as husband is that, again, attention and intentionality needs to be given to my marriage.

*Father – Having 3 little girls and a boy on the way means I have the awesome role and responsibility of “dad”.

*Producer – My life’s work can be summed up in this word. Whether I am in charge of a church service and creating that space in which people encounter God, or whether I’m gathering musicians to release an album I’ve written or whether I’m releasing a line of colognes I made in my basement… I view my work as “Production”. It often involves creativity and events and communication, and relationships, but in the end I think producer is the best word for it.

What 4 or 5 roles would you say you play in your life? 

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2. I came up with a word that summarizes my end goal for each of my roles.  This is how I hope to define success for each of my roles in the seasons to come. What words would you come up for the roles you have in your own life?

Here’s mine:

*Spiritual Being – ABIDE
If I abide in God then I have achieved success as a spiritual being (it’s an ongoing process isn’t it?). So I listen to podcasts, I read books, I pray, I take communion, I have quiet days every other month… all so I can approach this idea of abiding. It becomes the healthy foundation, really, for my other roles.

*Husband – TOGETHER
The word I really had here was symbiosis. But together is prettier and cleaner. Betony and I are completely a symbiotic relationship- when she’s thriving I’m thriving, when I’m down she’s down and vice versa. I want to approach my role as husband with this word in mind. If I’m working towards her flourishing and she mine, it’s a solid dynamic in marriage.

*Father – PRESENT
It took a lot of thought for this. I went through a lot of words but, in the end, I’m not primarily a guide or protector or shaper or any of that. I simply want my kids at the end of my life to feel like Dad was always present. Engaged. Listening and completely reliable. When they want to share an anecdote I turn my attention to them. When one of them comes in from a nightmare, I rise and make sure they are comforted.

*Producer – GOOD
That word is too simple isn’t it? The way I’d really put it is “Good & Substantive Work”. For example, if I produce an album I want it to be GOOD. But I don’t take that word lightly. I mean good with a bass note. I mean good as in a dinner at your best friend’s house is good. It’s rich and thick and has layers and depth. Does that make sense? When I get done with a worship service I first ask myself, “Did our work honor God?” But the second question is “Was it GOOD? Did it have great substance to it?”

So I’ll be leaving some of my old definitions behind (like the ones I had for singer-songwriter). This how I’m defining success this next season: As a spiritual being I want to ABIDE in God, as a husband I want to reach for living life truly TOGETHER, as a father I want to be fully PRESENT, and as a producer I will be making GOOD & substantive work.

Again, this is all very self focused. How would you define your roles? What do you find yourself heading towards in those roles that define your success?

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