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Identifying the Keys to Your Success

The keys to your success are the stepping stones on your journey. These things are usually the same for anyone pursuing the kind of success you are. For example, a fiction writer’s keys to success includes writing short stories and submitting regularly. A freelance writer’s list might include researching a variety of topics and querying a variety of markets about different articles. While each individual’s goals will be more specific than this because everyone’s exact definition of success is different, the keys to success will be almost identical for people aiming to reach the same career or financial/emotional place in their lives.

Today I’d like you to consider what the keys to your success might be. While the most important thing is to look inward and ask yourself how you will reach your definition of success, it’s also helpful to look at people who have reached the kind of success you want. Learning about people who have walked the path before you and analyzing what steps were most important in their journey to success gives you a good idea of how to set your own goals.

For today’s exercise, though the focus is not on goals. Goals should always be specific, whereas the keys to your success are broader strokes. These are what you will base your goals on, but they are not your actual goals. They are guidelines for your life.

In order to find the keys to success, first ask yourself what the most important steps towards your definition of success would be. Chances are, you already have an idea: get out of debt, start your own business, go back to school, write a novel or a book proposal, etc. Most of the things on the list will be things you’ve been considering doing for a long time, but for one reason or another have been putting off. Circle the ones you think are most important–these are what you’re going to base your list of 2013 goals on–and underline anything you’ve already started doing.

Sometimes the keys to success are not so clear. You might not be sure exactly what you’re going to need to start your dream business. You might have no idea about what really goes into moving up in the corporate world. You might want to be a politician but be unsure how to start your first campaign. That’s perfectly fine–nobody knows everything, and some paths are easier to understand than others.

If you have no idea what you’ll need in order to reach your definition of success, research people who have walked the path before you. As you study people who have reached a definition of success very close to your own–though it will not be exactly the same–the keys to your own success will become clear to you. Pay particular attention to how they got to their most successful, but also to which actions hurt them along the way. Often it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.

Once you have a solid list of keys to your success, attach it to the paper with your definition of success. While these exercises are still helpful on the computer, I find that having the physical manifestation helps keep me on the right track. So staple these things together and put them somewhere not only memorable but plainly obvious–on a wall, on top of your computer, wherever you’re sure to see it regularly. This way, success will never be far from your mind–and the closer it is to your mind, the closer you will be to that success.

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Define Your Success

Success means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.

What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.

As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.

At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.

Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.

First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.

In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.

Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.

Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?

If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.

Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.

So what is your definition of success?

A Writer’s Dream

Every person wants different things; every person’s definition of success is different. There are individual successes, like when you ace a test in school, and there are overall successes, like when you get your high school diploma. As writers, we share many of the same individual successes-finishing a book, finishing an edit, submitting your book, getting published. These successes are shared by writers of all genres. Overall success, however, changes from writer to writer.

Individual successes in the fiction writing business are universal: the first finished book, the first successful rewrite, the first agent, the first contract, the first book sale. The first royalty check. Success in writing cannot be determined by the amount of money you make, or you’re sure to get discouraged-it takes time for even the best writers, even the promotional geniuses, to make any real money in this game. And so we measure and think of success in different ways-each new challenge we overcome as a writer is a success.

But what does overall success look like? Well that’s different for everyone. For me it looks like a small house in my ancestral land-the highlands of Scotland. It doesn’t involve any kind of corporate job; it involves gardening, cleaning, hiking, and writing. It involves at least one cat and preferably a husband of some kind-not a ceremonial wedding but a man who will stick with me through the thick and thin of my writing career-possibly a househusband if I ever make enough money for that kind of thing.

Most of all, when I’m older and looking back on my life, I’ll know I’ve reached success if I have a long line of published books which people really enjoyed. I’ll know I’ve reached success when my non-writing time is filled with talking to readers and other writers about books. I’ll know I’ve reached success when I go to a writing conference and some kid I’ve never seen or heard of before tells me that they read one of my books and were inspired not only to read more-but also to write. It is easy to blog and to give prompts to those who already write; it is harder to reach out to a young mind and make them think hey, maybe they could write a book too.

In the end I want to give back to young people. Writing has saved my life and I want to give that gift to other young people going through hard times.

What does your vision of overall success look like?