People who are genuinely successful enjoy life. It is not enough to earn a lot on money or to gain respect of others. If what you do in your career or other aspects of your life leave you empty or uncomfortable with yourself, then you have fallen short. Success is found in how you accomplish your goals, not just in what you accomplish.
The “how” of genuine success begins with nurturing self-awareness. You must make sure that know your inner values and interests; and live in accordance with them. To find this direction and learn to incorporate it into your life, consider the following steps:
Identify your most treasured values: Ask yourself: What are my most precious qualities? And, what was I put on this earth to achieve? Researchers (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) investigated this area and helped attain some clarity in it by identifying 24 character strengths that could be classified within six virtues. You can find your strengths by considering the virtues and character strengths below (think specifically about your strongest character traits and what values motivate you in life); or by taking the Values In Action Survey.
Virtues: Character Strengths
Wisdom & Knowledge: Creativity, Curiosity, Open-mindedness,Love of Learning, Perspective
Courage: Authenticity, Bravery, Persistence, Zest
Love & Humanity: Kindness, Love, Social Intelligence
Justice: Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork
Temperance: Forgiveness, Modesty, Prudence, Self-Regulation
Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty & excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Religiousness
Identify Your Passions: While it is helpful to know your character strengths, this does not necessarily tell you what careers to pursue. For this, you must consider your interests and passions. Ask yourself: What do I like to do? What can I envision myself becoming happily absorbed?
List as many things as come to mind. They might mesh well together or seem hopelessly disconnected. It doesn’t matter. Right now you just want to open yourself up to possibilities. You might find new ways to connect them into one path, choose to pursue more than one path, or decide to follow one as a career and enjoy the other in your more personal life.
Identify how you can live your values as you pursue your interests: This is key. By bringing together your interests with your values, you can pursue topics or experiences that you enjoy while also embracing your most treasured values.
Examples of this might be becoming an interior designer because you enjoy looking at tastefully decorated homes (appreciation of beauty), have an eye for design (creativity), and truly enjoy helping people to be happy (kindness). Or, you might pursue a career as a physical therapist because you enjoy learning about the body and how it can be healed (love of learning) and are good at working with people (social intelligence).
In the end, success is best measured by an internal barometer. You are achieving genuine success when you can look around and say, I have achieved my goals and feel good about how I am living my life.
Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
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