Everyone wants it. And some who have already achieved it hunger for even more.
But what does success mean? How do you ensure that your success is enduring, not just temporary?
These are hard questions, and I don’t claim to have all the answers.
But since completing my formal education and entering the “real world,” I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to find long-term success.
My mission is to empower students to become both happy and successful. So these are my four words of advice to students who want to succeed in life:
1. Focus on contribution, not achievement.
Society tends to emphasize achievement rather than contribution.
But real success isn’t determined by how much you’ve achieved. It’s determined by how much you’ve contributed.
And the size of your contribution isn’t limited by your job title. As Harry Beckwith once said, “There is no such thing as an ordinary job. There are only people who choose to perform them in ordinary ways.”
Your contributions have less to do with your career, and more to do with how committed you are and how much you care.
If you’re committed to a cause you care about deeply, you’ll go the extra mile to serve others and make a difference. No “unimpressive” job title will be able to stand in your way.
That’s why people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey were busy changing the world, long before they became famous.
All work – except for illegal trades – directly or indirectly involves serving others, meeting their needs, or empowering them to lead better lives.
Work is intrinsically meaningful. It gives us opportunities to contribute, and to make the world a better place.
Those who succeed in life don’t simply coast along. They don’t just go with the flow. Instead, they go beyond the call of duty, time after time.
As Zig Ziglar observed, “You can have everything you want in life, if you will help enough other people get what they want.”
So think of ways that you can go beyond the call of duty.
Here are some examples:
- Share your knowledge with others
- Go out of your way to honor your parents
- Write a thank-you note to someone who has made a difference in your life
- Do something to brighten up your friend’s, parent’s, or teacher’s day
- Mentor someone younger and less experienced than you
- Start a website to share useful information with others
The possibilities are endless. But it all starts with a desire to contribute, not just achieve.
2. Commit to personal growth.
One of my favorite quotes is this anonymous one:
“Many succeed momentarily by what they know. Some succeed temporarily by what they do. Few succeed permanently by what they are.”
If you want to attain lasting success, what matters most is character. Knowledge and skills pale in comparison. I’ve even heard several employers remark that they’ve learned to hire for character rather than competence.
To build character, commit to personal growth. Take intentional steps to become more hardworking, disciplined, generous, kind, focused, resilient, caring, and empathetic.
Focus on the process, instead of the outcome. As Dr. Carol Dweck’s research has shown, adopting this mindset leads to long-term success. Ironically, by focusing on improving and developing – rather than on achieving a specific result – you’ll achieve an even better result.
At the end of the day, personal growth isn’t about being better than others so you can feel good about yourself.
Personal growth is about the pursuit of excellence. It’s about continual improvement. It’s about making the most of this one precious life we’ve each been given.
So what are some practical ways to help you grow as a person?
Here are several:
- Every day, spend five minutes in reflection
- Do one thing a week that forces you out of your comfort zone
- Overcome a bad habit
- Eliminate unwanted distractions
- Read a book
- Learn a new skill
- Take up a new hobby
- Surround yourself with people you aspire to be like
- Sign up for a workshop
- Take an online course at Udemy or Coursera
- Subscribe to an educational YouTube channel like CrashCourse or AsapSCIENCE
Personal growth is never wasted. It helps you to embrace possibilities and to cultivate a sense of wonder.
And, without a doubt, it will lead you down the path of enduring success.
3. Invest in your most important relationships.
The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.
This study followed 268 Harvard students over the course of 75 years. The study collected data on many aspects of their lives, and sought to answer the question: Which factors lead to long-term happiness and fulfillment?
The study discovered that having strong relationships is the most important factor. In fact, the study found “strong relationships to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction.” You might have wealth, physical health, and a thriving career, but without strong relationships you won’t be happy.
How does this principle apply to students who want to succeed in life?
Don’t become so obsessed about getting to the top that you forget about bringing people along with you on the journey.
So take a few minutes and identify the most important relationships in your life. Commit to investing in these relationships. Make them a priority, and don’t let your work or hobbies get in the way.
Every week, block out time in your calendar to spend with your close friends and family. Keep track of the important things going on in their lives, and check in with them periodically. They’ll appreciate this more than you imagine.
It’s easy to be distracted by urgent matters, while neglecting the important ones. So guard your time and your relationships. That’s the only way you’ll find lasting success and happiness.
4. Cultivate a spirit of gratitude.
Life is full of challenges and struggles. But, at the same time, there are always things to be grateful for.
When you cultivate a spirit of gratitude, you’ll complain less. You’ll develop a positive attitude, and people will enjoy being around you more. You’ll become a less anxious person, too.
This will help you find enduring success.
Here are more benefits of gratitude, backed by science:
- It helps you to make more friends
- It improves your physical health
- It enhances your sleep quality
- It increases your self-esteem
- It builds resilience
- It reduces stress
- It makes you more generous and compassionate
Isn’t this an incredible list?
So, if you haven’t already done so, start a gratitude journal. Every night before you go to bed, take a minute and write down just one thing you’re thankful for.
This habit will train your mind to focus on the positive, and will cultivate a sense of hope for the future.
I’ve kept a gratitude journal for the past eight years – it’s made me a much more appreciative person!
The bottom line
I’m not so naïve to think that I know everything about success. But I do know that real success is hard to attain.
It demands that we lead a life of principles, not just pragmatism.
A life of meaning, not materialism.
A life of conviction, not convenience.
A life of service, not self-centeredness.
We’re all on a journey toward success. Together, let’s make it a great one.
An earlier version of this article first appeared on Yahoo!.
Please “like” this article and share it with your friends.