After last month’s theme of dealing with failure, it’s only fitting that we follow up with failure’s showy counterpart—success—and slide into the end of the year on a high.
Do you consider yourself successful, Stargazer? Or are you forever chasing that elusive status? If you’ve struggled to find the answer to how to be successful, it may mean that your definition of success isn’t clear. Or maybe you’re spinning your wheels and can’t get unstuck.
Let’s look at successful people. What do they have in common? Usually they are those who set clear goals that directly align with their personal definition of success. Of course, there are a number of other factors that may contribute to success in life. They fall into two groups: the things we can control and the things we can’t.
Successful people are those who set clear goals that directly align with their personal definition of success.
The reality is that some successful people benefit from socio-economic status and generational wealth. “Success is not a random act,” says Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. “It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” But there are those, too, who overcome adversity and find success in life through hard work and perseverance.
Here, we’ll help you bring success into sharp focus so you can start reaching for it. But first, we need to know a little more about you. Understanding your personality type will help us deliver advice tailored to your motivations and goals. Take our quiz to discover your Founder Sign. All set? Read on.
How to be successful: 7 steps to living the life you want
Becoming successful in life and work can be achieved even if it feels out of reach. Luck, privilege, and access are the paved highway to success. But those willing to make their own luck can find a detour. Here are seven ways to be successful, no matter what that means to you.
1. Define success
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, the author suggests that creative ideas are entities on their own, and that we should visualize them as such, nurturing them, lest they are lost. Imagine success in this way—bring it into focus as a clear picture. What does it look like? What elements surround it? What’s the weather like in this picture? Where are you? And how do you feel?
“You cannot hit a target you cannot see,” says entrepreneur Daymond John, who, before he became an investor on Shark Tank, imagined himself as someone who would share his knowledge about entrepreneurship. “I just kept visualizing myself at a big news desk.”
For entrepreneur and flower shop owner Natalie Gill, the exercise helped break her out of her dead-end 9-to-5 and take a leap toward something concrete. “I started writing a list of what I wanted my life to look like,” she says. “I wanted to work with my hands, set my own schedule, be my own boss, do something creative, make people happy, feel connected to nature, and be out in the sun.”
2. Set goals
Goal setting is an important stage in translating your vision of success into a statement that answers the how, the when, and the why. Many New Year’s resolutions fail because they are too vague. “Be more active” lacks any detail that would identify how to actually achieve it, whereas “be active for 30 minutes per day, four days per week for the month of January” is a goal upon which you can measure your success.
Goal setting is an important stage in translating your vision of success into a statement that answers the how, the when, and the why.
Set goals that are motivating, not intimidating. “Goals shouldn’t back us into a corner,” says entrepreneur and podcaster Jenna Kutcher. “They should give us the intention to be thoughtfully moving towards something.”
3. Explore multiple paths
In the same way that everyone’s end success goals look different, the paths to get there can also be varied. If you get stuck or experience failure on your way to success, turn back and try another route.
The FIRE movement, popularized by extreme frugality and side-hustling YouTubers racing toward early retirement, is a great example. On its face, the movement just isn’t attainable without access to the pipeline of massive privilege.
Naturally, the movement evolved to embrace accessible, creative, and less radical paths to financial independence (FI). “These days, a lot more people are willing to slow down their path to FI,” says Julien Saunders of rich & REGULAR, “instead of taking a no-holds-barred high-speed sprint approach.”
4. Banish bad vibes
Negative thoughts can creep in, especially if your journey to a successful life is interrupted or delayed. When Moorea Seal struggled in college, the experience invited doubt. “I thought at the time it meant I would not be successful in life,” she says. She persevered, focusing on her strengths, and would go on to become a successful entrepreneur and published author.
Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and look to mentors who possess the life you’ve always dreamed of. Conversely, divert your energy away from people who don’t celebrate your wins, and social media content that diminishes or discourages you. “When the world tells you to shrink, expand,” says award-winning journalist and Project Runway judge Elaine Welteroth in More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are.
4. Find success on your own terms
It’s easy to get caught up in other people’s expectations of you, or to strive for their version of success. This is a slippery slope. While you may be able to meet these expectations placed on you, they may not match your personal definition of success, leaving you feeling unsatisfied.
“I had a moment where I was just like, ‘If I stay on the same course, I know I’ll be very financially successful, but I’m not really building the legacy that I want,’” says Two Wheel Gear founder Reid Hemsing. While nervous about what his friends and family would think of his choice to leave a lucrative career, he followed his heart and built his own business.
Moorea similarly measured the world’s perspective of her success against her own. When the pandemic forced her to close her retail show, she regrouped. “I needed to make sure my business was more about what I care about on a deep, deep level,” she says. “More than just selling products.”
6. Embrace failure
As we discussed in our last instalment, failure is a tool for you to wield. It’s a hands-on learning experience that can motivate you to strive toward your goals in a new way. A failure is not an ending. It’s a reset and an opportunity to focus anew on your success goals—this time, with more knowledge in your corner.
A failure is not an ending. It’s a reset and an opportunity to focus anew on your success goals—this time, with more knowledge in your corner.
“When your dreams are bigger than the places you find yourself in, sometimes you need to seek out your own reminders that there is more,” writes Elaine Welteroth. “And there is always more waiting for you on the other side of fear.”
7. Enjoy the rewards
So you’re successful. What now? If you’ve clearly defined the meaning of success for yourself, it should be obvious when you’ve achieved it. Depending on your personality, you may choose to sit back and enjoy the results of your hard work, or chart your course to the next level. Either way, spend time here. Reflect on your journey and take pride in your accomplishments.
“I don’t need an encore chant after every song,” Grammy award-winning musician Lizzo told Elle in 2019. “But when it does happen, I open my arms to receive it, because it’s happening for a reason, and I’m so grateful for it.”
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Success secrets for every personality type
You’re now armed with plenty of inspiration to help you on your way to success. Let’s talk about you—specifically you—Stargazer. Find your Founder Sign and pocket some tactical and tailored advice on how to succeed, picked just for your personality type.
👟 Skip to your sign:
Feature sign: The Outsider
What does success mean for you, Outsider? If we know you (and we do), success and security are likely tightly entwined. Your vision of success is modest: do what you’re good at while earning a sustainable income that lets you save for your future. While you’re not romantic about your business goals, using your skills and running your business your way does bring you personal fulfillment.
How to be successful as an Outsider
Let yourself have dreams, Outsider. The need for predictability and security may drive you to keep your risk-taking in check. But beware of complacency. If your work ceases to bring any joy, even if it’s checking the boxes, imagine something bigger for yourself. Reimagine success and strive for it. “There is no glory in a grind that literally grinds you down to dust,” writes Elaine Welteroth in her book.
For you, Firestarter, success looks a lot like the more traditional definition: money and status. The most often surfaced examples of highly successful people are usually public figures who’ve made fortunes by building businesses or by being the best in their field. These are your idols.
How to be successful as a Firestarter
There’s nothing wrong with being motivated by money or status, but make sure it’s what actually fulfils you—and not what you think might impress others. Draw crisp edges around the version of success you want. Is it taking your company public? Owning a luxury car? Whatever it is, design a life that builds toward those things but also lets you enjoy the journey. Checkpoint goals are important for you to feel a continued influx of success energy—otherwise, you’ll keep striving for more without the satisfaction of ever reaching it.
It’s hard for you to pin down exactly what success means to you, Trailblazer. You leap at the chance to take on creative projects. You’re passionate about them until you’re not, then leap to the next big idea. Maybe you have a few brewing at once. Being successful is deeply entwined with happiness and creative fulfilment—and for people like you the rest follows naturally. In this way, you are the envy of those around you.
How to be successful as a Trailblazer
In taking a free spirited approach to following your passions, you exude the energy of a person who has found success (even if you don’t feel like one). But it’s possible to creatively burn out on half-baked ideas. Anchor yourself, occasionally, to clear mini goals and bask in the sense of accomplishment. Long term, Trailblazer, a clear vision will ground you. We don’t want to take away your sense of spontaneity, but as you leapfrog around, a defined picture of success will help aim your creativity in one direction.
For you, a mood board might help you bring to life a vague idea about your ideal future. Blogger Thomas Kreuglar suggests clipping images that represent places you see yourself and images that represent your dream career. “Think of things outside of work and living spaces,” he says. “Such as charity, values, people you admire, and the greater impact you want to make on the community.”
Success to you, Mountaineer, is crystal clear. Your goal is like a new tattoo—crisp, vibrant, and permanent. You know exactly what it means for you to feel successful and you’ve mapped out (most of) the steps to get there.
How to be successful as a Mountaineer
It’s hard to give you advice here, Mountaineer. Your friends often look to you for this wisdom. You are naturally a person destined for success, and you’ll get there through any means possible. Where this personality trait can be your downfall is when your dreams distract you from being present. You are sometimes so intensely fixed on your end goal that you miss the details and forget to enjoy the process. Pause occasionally and reassess. Does your path or end goal still make sense as the world changes around you, or is there room for flexibility.
Success isn’t ever going to happen on someone else’s terms. Not in your world, Cartographer. You, of all the signs, are the best at visualizing your own image of a successful life. You have well-laid plans to get there, every step accounted for.
How to be successful as a Cartographer
Where you might stumble is losing confidence when things aren’t going exactly as planned. Maintaining tight control over the process usually yields you the results you want, but what if it doesn’t? Practice imagining different versions of success, allow yourself to indulge in more lofty dreams outside of your comfort zone that might require risk to achieve. Letting go of one-track thinking will let you explore new paths that might uncover good surprises or welcome shortcuts that you couldn’t see before.
If you’ve yet to determine your Founder Sign, take our quiz then sign up for our newsletter. The Founder’s Zodiac runs every month and offers up advice and relevant content curated just for your type.
Illustrations by by Alice Mollon