Redefining Success in 2015: How Much Is Enough?

Pick an element of what it means to be successful and W. Brett Wilson has likely achieved it. He is one of Canada's most financially successful and well-known businessmen, he is an Order of Canada recipient, a best-selling author, and former television star of Dragon's Den, the Canadian hit series precursor to ABC's Shark Tank.
01/07/2015 05:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Pick an element of what it means to be successful and W. Brett Wilson has likely achieved it. He is one of Canada's most financially successful and well-known businessmen, he is an Order of Canada recipient, a best-selling author, and former television star of Dragon's Den, the Canadian hit series precursor to ABC's Shark Tank. He is a widely respected philanthropist and has invested in countless entrepreneurial ventures. He has achieved a level of success which far exceeds even the most ambitious of standards.

However, Brett's is also a story about the trappings of "success." His material wealth came at a tremendous personal cost. His first book, Redefining Success -- Still Making Mistakes, is a thought-provoking autobiography, which candidly exposes the extent of his struggles.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Brett about his book and we talked about how people tend to struggle with finding their own definition of success. Although we may vigorously pursue success, many of us do not have a clear idea of what that represents. As Brett and I talked, he asked: "Is success a nice house? A nice car? What is really important to us? Having more time with our friends and family? Making more money? These are all things that can be embedded in our definition of success." He ended this part of the conversation with a question that really resonated with me: "How much is enough?"

"When you don't know where you are going, any road can get you there." -- Lewis Carroll

Two specific challenges exist regarding the pursuit of success. The first occurs when we are unclear about our personal definition of success. If we do not know what success looks like to us, how can we feel successful? We cannot value something if we do not know what is.

Second, research shows that we acclimate very quickly to our surroundings, and so we can become stuck on a hedonistic treadmill. The thrill of today's victories becomes the "status quo" of tomorrow. That new tailor-made suit or sports car that we were so proud of often gets thrown over the back of a chair or becomes just another way to get around town.

When making our New Year's resolutions this year, perhaps it is time for us to take a different approach. Maybe we should start looking at what success really means for us in 2015. We should be brutally honest with ourselves about what we really want and the sacrifices we are prepared to make to get there. This does not mean that material wealth cannot be a part of this equation, as long as we understand the reality of what we are pursuing and then coming to peace with the potential costs.

To success and beyond

Identifying what it means to live a successful life is a challenging and highly intimate personal conversation. When spending time with family and friends this year, start talking about how you and the people around you define success. Initiate discussions with your spouse/romantic partner, children, family, friends, etc. Proactively engaging in this reflection can bring tremendous clarity and satisfaction to our personal and professional lives and allow us to share and understand what the most important people in our lives desire from us.

At the end of our conversation about the price of pursuing wealth at all costs, Brett poignantly noted that

"It's a sad trade-off. I end up now with more wealth than I need and less time than I want."

Considering the above, when thinking about the coming year and beyond, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I truly need? What do I truly want? What is my true definition of success?

I would love to hear your definitions of success below to start the conversation!

Wishing you all the best for 2015!