Developing a Personal Vision: Defining Success

See also: Areas of Personal Development

Our page on Planning Your Personal Development suggests that it is important to have a vision for your future. A vision here means a picture of what and where you want to be in life. You might think of this as identifying what success looks like for you in work, in your personal life, or perhaps in sport and hobbies.

This vision is a vital step on the way to identifying your personal development needs, and then taking action to address them. This page explains how you can develop that personal vision and help to define ‘success’ for yourself.


What is Success?

success, n. any favourable development or outcome, something that turns out well or that is judged favourably by others.


Chambers 21st Century Dictionary

It may be obvious, but it is worth pointing out that success looks different for all of us.

Each of us has different ambitions and things that we want to achieve and to get out of life. For this reason, it is unhelpful to compare your achievements to others, or to consider others as ‘unsuccessful’ because they have not achieved what you want to achieve. However high others may reach in life or careers, you also have no way of judging whether they consider their own lives a success.

Defining Success


Nelson Mandela can, by most measures, be considered a success: the first president of post-apartheid South Africa, a key mover in securing the end of apartheid and, on a personal level, a survivor of many years in the notorious prison on Robben Island.

He himself, however, said merely,

When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.

Vision, and success, is extremely personal.


Different Areas of Success

As well as success being personal, there are many different ways in which it could be defined and measured: fame, fortune, recognition, personal integrity, discovering something new to the world, or even just doing your job to the best of your ability.

It is important to be clear about what ‘success’ would look like to you.

As the first step to developing your vision, it may be worth writing down how success will look. Define as many aspects of it as possible for you, but also identify the one most important aspect (money, fame, family etc).

Success will also look different across different areas of your life. It may be helpful to identify particular areas, and think about them separately.

Useful distinctions include:

  • Formal or informal study and learning
  • Career or professional life
  • Personal life and relationships
  • Hobbies or sport

Inspiration and Influence

In thinking about success, it may be helpful to think about people who have influenced you, and also people whom you find inspiring.

These may be:

  • People you know, who have said or done things that have affected how you perceive success, or what you want to achieve in life;
  • People in the public eye, who you may wish to emulate in some way, or to avoid doing what they have done; and
  • Historical or even fictional characters whom you feel are particularly like or unlike you, or who did particularly good or bad things.

WARNING!
Influence can be both positive and negative


It is important to be aware of why you perceive success in particular ways, or want to achieve particular things.

In particular, you want to be aware if your ambitions have perhaps been driven by trying to please others. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to be aware of it.

For more about why this might matter, read our page on Self-Motivation, and particularly on the difference between intrinsic, extrinsic and obligation motivators.


In each case, think about why you find these people influential or inspiring. This is not necessarily about what they have done, but about how you feel about it.


How to Use Your Vision

At this stage, you should have a broad picture of what success will look like for you in each sphere of your life, and which elements are most important to you. This, broadly, is your vision.

You can think of your vision as the picture on the cover of the jigsaw box. It guides you and gives you an overall picture of what you are trying to achieve. When it comes to actually putting the pieces together, however, you have to rely on the way that they look and how they fit together in practice: the picture is probably not detailed enough to help.

In other words, your vision needs to give you a broad picture of where you are going: what sort of life you want, how you want to live, what you want to achieve. It does not, however, have to be in huge detail.

Although it is the guide that keeps you to the path despite new and challenging information, it should also be open to change when you receive new information about yourself.

Case study: Changing the vision


Until she had children, Melanie had been a real career woman. A high-flyer, she had worked as a civil servant and always been first to volunteer for high pressure, high visibility jobs. Although she had plenty of hobbies, and an active social life, work came first. When asked, she said that she saw herself progressing through the civil service, onwards and upwards.

But once children arrived, her priorities changed. She no longer wanted to work long hours, or even full time. And the job which she had enjoyed so much just didn’t fulfil her any more. She found herself resenting her time in the office, and worrying about how she was going to survive the next twenty years.

When her employer offered voluntary redundancy, she decided to take up the offer. To allow herself a complete break, she took 18 months out to spend time with her children. After that, she looked carefully around at her options, and decided to start her own business. She realised that she now saw success as being able to spend time with her children, attend events at school, and be there when the children arrived home each day, while still doing something that kept her brain active, and allowed her to earn enough money to meet the family’s needs.

She admitted freely that she would never have expected to define success in that way. Recognising that her vision had changed, however, had given her the freedom to do something that met her needs, and those of her family.


A Guiding Hand

Your vision is your guide to developing your personal strategy. It helps you to ensure that what you do gets you where you want to be.

Be warned though: if you find that you want to do things that do not fit your vision, it may be time to redefine the vision!

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