How You Define “Success” Says Everything About Whether You’ll Actually Succeed

woman playing bass on stage

woman playing bass on stage

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How many times have we said: “if only ____ would happen, then ____!”

Sometimes it’s easy to think that success is only one lucky break away. That if only we could fall into a lucky break, we might just reach all our goals and live happily ever after.

And while I do believe luck plays a prominent part in success, it isn’t as important as we think. Certainly, it’s not the only thing that leads to a successful career. Take for instance, this scenario. Say you get everything you’ve asked for — a label calls and says “we want to sign you today!” Sounds great, right!?

But what if you don’t have the tools in place to make the most of that opportunity, and so time, money, and label resources are spent trying to get you to the point of being ready, all the while you’re twiddling your thumbs, blaming the label, and thinking “this isn’t what it’s supposed to look like!”

Here’s the truth: it never is.

And if you hold on to some elusive, undefined vision of what “success” is to you, without actually thinking through if what you say you want and what you actually get are the same, you’ll never truly find success. Because it won’t really exist.

The above is an extreme example of course, (let’s be real, a label would not approach a band who doesn’t already have solid branding and fanbase) but it’s an important one to illustrate the point that how you look at success, how you define what that looks like, is a pretty good indicator of whether you’ll actually succeed.

1. Success means knowing what you want.

You can’t succeed if you don’t know what it is you’re going after.

While there’s a certain amount of ebb and flow that must be embraced in this industry, this isn’t the time to simply throw spaghetti at the wall, see what sticks, and then follow that path. You want to know what it is you envision as your most perfect career success, down to the day-to-day tasks that populate the life you want to live; in order to go after it.

Those who simply wait for things to happen to them to decide what they want, or how they feel, will very rarely find true success or happiness. And that brings me to point #2.

2. Success is knowing how you want to feel.

Success is not a one-size-fits-all formula. If it were, not only would we all be successful, but to be honest it would also be pretty boring. The fact that we’re all so different means we get to choose our own adventure each and every day, touching the lives of those around us.

The tricky part is identifying how you want to feel. Not just what you want.

For example, you may say you want to sign to a label and tour full-time because that sounds exciting and you get to see the world. But if I ask you how you want to feel in your day to day life and you tell me you thrive in a routine-based environment with stability and knowing what to expect, and that you like to feel like you know what’s about to happen next and that you have creative freedom over your time and energy, then I might say that doesn’t match up with what you’re saying you want (touring and label support)

Take the time to focus on how you want to feel first so that you can design a life around THAT. Because the way we feel is what truly defines if we’ll be happy with our successes or if we’re just chasing after someone else’s happily ever after.

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3. Success is celebrating the small things.

There is always going to be some new shiny thing to chase after. There will always be what feels like a mountain of work. What real success is about is all the small moment.

It’s the laughter in the van after a show, the coffee at midnight while you pour over new lyrics. It’s the little things that make up the way you want to feel, that lead to success.

If you’re always ignoring these moments you’ll never truly be satisfied, even when you do reach a major milestone, because you’ll have forgotten what it took to actually get there.

4. Success is remaining flexible.

Staying rigid in anything for too long is usually a recipe for disaster. As human beings, our wants change. The way we view the world, our lives, and our role in it, will inevitably change over the years. What you wanted 10 years ago may not be what you want today and that’s okay.

If you keep fighting for the version of success that a 20-year-old you wanted, when 30- year-old you have a different set of priorities, you’ll never feel satisfied, even when you do hit those milestones.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Finding Success in Music Without Focusing on Success.”

5. Success is what you make it.

The cheesiest and truest line — success truly is what you make it at the end of the day.

If you’re always so fixated on the next thing that you can never appreciate where you are or how far you’ve come, it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel like you succeeded. And that’s what we keep coming back to–the feeling of success. That comes from appreciating the little moments that got you to where you are, the friendships, bandmates, team members, fans that carried you here. The fun you had along the way and all the fun that’s still to come. Those are the things that determine if you feel successful or not.

Remember to embrace the moment and never give up on going after your own version of success, and embrace the journey that gets you there.

What does success mean to you?

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