success and happiness

Life lesson number four: Success needs a new definition

If I asked you to describe the life of a successful thirty-something, you probably wouldn't include cancer scars alongside the list of society-approved achievements.

With a good career, loving family, nice house and engagement ring on my finger, I thought I understood what it was to be successful. 

Turns out, I didn't have a clue.

The greatest piece of advice about success that I have ever received came not from a high-powered executive but from the nurse who cared for me after my mastectomy. That nurse had, herself, suffered great sadness, and had turned to nursing as a way of giving back to the world. 

As I was reaching for my Blackberry just 24 hours after surgery, she turned to me and said: 'What is it you really want your gravestone to say?' Certainly a sobering statement so soon after life-saving surgery, but the right one. That sentence has stuck with me even years later and greets me each morning. 

Working hard shouldn't really make the shortlist for the final words that are chiselled about you in marble. Question is, what should? 

I have just been reading Arianna Huffington's book Thrive, which focuses on her attempts to redefine success. In it, she talks about the idea of the 'Third metric', a third measure that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of the four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving'. 

I couldn't agree more. 

She goes on to explain that 'the Third Metric is one lived in a way that's mindful of our eventful eulogy... We may not be able to witness our own eulogy, but we're actually writing it all the time, every day. The question is how much we're giving the eulogiser to work with.'

If you asked me now, whether I think I am successful, I would say yes - but not in the way you might think. Success for me now is living every day according to my values. 

I would highly recommend you spend some time identifying and honing your own values. Search online and you will be able to find lists of relevant words to get you started. (The Daily Greatness diary also has an exercise to encourage those values to surface).

The hardest part is narrowing them down.

My values are as follows - set as a daily reminder on my phone to focus my mind each morning:

1) Generosity and purpose: make a difference each day and you'll find that a little bit of kindness can go a very long way

2) Energy and health: only once you have put your oxygen mask on first, are you qualified to look after others

3) Achievement: being able to declare at the end of each day 'I did that'

I genuinely believe I am the sum total of my imperfections - the bits life didn't get right first time. Those imperfections have helped me find my own definition of what it is to be successful.

Let's hope the eulogiser agrees...

Success definitely does need a new definition - yours!