In the eyes of our broader society, being a lawyer generally connotes success in itself. However, as we all know, this title alone rarely defines what we individually seek to achieve. Instead, having the title of lawyer seems to be more of a starting point with “success” still a finish line. Here are five steps that I have learned and used over the years to try to measure and reach success.
- Determine what success means to you. Like many things, success is in the eye of the beholder. One lawyer’s definition of success should not be imposed upon anyone else. If you use someone else’s bar, it may be set too high or too low. Given this, you have to define what success means to you. Maybe it is title, status, income, or all or none of these items. Importantly, realize that the definition will change as your life and career changes. What may have been your definition in the first year of practice is likely different in the third, tenth, or thirtieth year. That is alright; always be true to your evolving definition, not others’.
- Develop short-term goals that help shape long-term success. A book I recently read contained the applicable quote, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Just like any hard endeavor, success does not come overnight. It usually takes years, if not a career. Based upon this, give yourself short term goals that you believe will help you reach your ultimately definition of success. Maybe this year you will write and publish that article showing your subject matter expertise, or join that organization that you eventually hope to get more involved in. Next year, build further on those prior short-term goals. You will find that these smaller steps lead to the next opportunities. Be sure to write down these short-term goals and periodically assess what you have achieved and, as important, what you have failed to do. Failure is okay (see below for more).
- Tell others about your goals. All of us need help to achieve success. Rarely do we do great things on our own. Whether a peer, colleague, mentor, or champion, involve others in your trajectory toward success. It holds you accountable for what you want to achieve. It also allows you to use others as a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas. Furthermore, it allows others to provide advice and counsel based on their own experiences. We all need the feedback, encouragement, and objectivity that can only be provided when we enlist others to help us.
- Periodically look at where you are. They say, “what gets measured gets accomplished.” Make sure you revisit your short-term goals and definition of success on at least an annual basis. Assessing where you are allows you to be flexible to change your goals based upon the certainty that changes will happen in your life and career. Often times our personal lives and business pursuits change how achievable our goals remain. That’s okay, but be objective about what you have and have not accomplished and why. Look at your map to success and make sure you stay on course or change the destination. Use a pencil with an eraser!
- Enjoy the ride. I have learned much more from my failures than my achievements. The point of charting a path towards and defining success is not to score 100% or to be perfect. Instead, it is to ensure you challenge yourself despite the trials and tribulations that will inevitably come along the way. We often do not try because we do not want to fail. Instead, tell yourself that failure is okay, but not trying is not. You will realize that the trip is as important as the destination. Take it all in. Enjoy the people you meet along the way, embrace all that you learn and accept all of the experiences.
Here’s to your success and the many great experiences that come along the way.