Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Real Success Can’t Be Measured by External Milestones
- 21 Important Life-Changing Questions
- Bonus Questions!!
- What really matters?
- Your Personal Transformation
I’m sick to my stomach, leaning against the bathroom wall trying to release what feels like an air bubble from my throat.
Two minutes before I’m due to go on stage, and I can barely speak.
There’s a paltry audience of ten people in the theatre waiting to see my solo show, and I feel anything but ready.
Everything had gone wrong.
My partner, distracted by YouTube videos had forgotten to give me my call time. Which meant I was late to put my makeup on, and late to leave. We rushed to the theatre, and on the way, we got into an argument.
Now here I was doubled over in the grimy grey bathroom, my intro music playing, trying to pull it together.
I want to quit. I want to race out the stage door and never perform again.
Then, in an instant, the feeling flips – like an internal light switch. In a split second, I go from being terrified to determine. “Screw it,” I think. “This is my show, and I get to decide if it’s going to be any good. Just go out there and let it rip.”
I skitter onto the stage, 20 seconds late for my cue, and I knock the show out of the park.
Months later I can still recall the experience in detail. There were only 10 people to see it happen, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the internal experience of success.
Most of us live our whole lives chasing after a success that belongs to someone else. We never ask ourselves the questions that’ll get us closer to a version of success that feels good. We make goals and achieve them and never feel content.
Real success can’t be measured by external milestones; it can only be measured by the quality of our inner life.
Do I feel good? Am I becoming stronger and more at peace with every goal I hit? Or do I feel empty and unfulfilled?
Last January, I spent three days on a self-styled retreat with one of my best friends. We were both ready for some big internal changes. Our professional lives had undergone seismic shifts the year before, but our inner lives had yet to catch up.
Without any plans to do so, we ended up asking each other a series of questions that forced us to re-evaluate how we were living our lives on a day-to-day level.
12 months later, both of us have undergone personal transformations. On a recent walk, we talked about how we feel now compared to last December. We both brought up feeling more grounded and less stressed.
These 21 challenging questions (yup, it’s not easy to answer all of them truthfully!) made the last 12 months the most internally and externally successful of my life.
You can answer them solo or do this with a friend. Either way, writing down all your answers will give you a personal success roadmap. Instead of jumping on the emotional roller coaster of New Year’s resolutions that are bound to fail, try this. Write out your answers in a notebook and look at them throughout the year.
21 Life-Changing Questions
1. What are your priorities?
This is what matters most to you. This comes first. My priorities are health, friendships, creative expression, and financial stability.
2. How are you currently living in alignment with your priorities?
If you say that health is a priority, are you actually putting yourself first?
3. What are your top five values?
This is what drives your life. They are a non-negotiable part of who you are. Living in alignment with these values will give you a more fulfilling life.
4. How well have you been living in alignment with your values?
This isn’t about making yourself feel bad. It’s about being honest. Often our values get put to the side as we try to live up to others’ expectations. But this is a backward way to live.
5. How do you want to feel this year?
Do you want to feel powerful, alive, electric, calm, serene, on fire? You get to decide how you want to feel. But if you don’t, then someone might decide for you.
6. What are your intentions for the year?
These aren’t goals. They don’t have to be specific and measurable in any external way. My intention last year was this:
To do enough, not too much. To be active and engaged, not so so busy, to rest, to heal, to put my heart first.
7. What three thoughts can you let go of that don’t serve you anymore?
Everyone has limiting beliefs that need to be dropped. They aren’t helping you, and worse, they could be holding you back. Pick three.
8. What three thoughts can you replace those with?
It’s nearly impossible to drop one way of thinking without replacing it. What tune will you play instead? Last year I replaced “It’s not enough,” with a question. I asked myself, “Is it enough?” That switch made a difference in how I felt every day.
9. When life gets busy, what can you stop doing?
This is shit-hits-the-fan planning. Most of us make life plans and lists of goals with no thought to the many things that can and will go wrong. Starting your year with the understanding that things will go sideways is helpful.
What can you put on the back burner when life gets crazy? Last year my stop-list included googling, personal e-mail, extra shopping, making new plans, adding personal to-dos, and working on courses. When life got busy, I put those non-essential activities on hold.
10. What are your biggest dreams?
These aren’t SMART goals. We’re talking about the delicious and outrageous dreams that most adults stop themselves from acknowledging. As kids, we had hundreds of wild dreams. But as adults, we stop ourselves from having even one.
What beautiful dreams live inside of you? List a few. Give them space to ferment. Want to know something weird? I actually achieved two of my dreams last year. Turns out, they weren’t so wild after all.
11. What are your top three financial goals?
Pick a major goal and two small ones. They don’t have to be epic. You could automate your banking or read a book about investing. Whatever you do, make sure your financial goals are in alignment with your values. And don’t skip over this one. Especially if finances are an area where you struggle to feel confident. Bonus tip: if you attach a powerful reason to your goals, you’ll be more likely to achieve them.
12. What are your top three personal goals?
Often in career-driven stages of our lives, we don’t make goals for our relationships or mental health. Again, pick a big goal and two small ones. Last year I focused on my relationship with my parents and my partner. This had a hugely positive effect on my life.
13. What are your top three business or career goals?
Sometimes in the business/career area, we go crazy with goals. We come up with a list of 10 goals, and all of them are meaty. It helps to apply a minimalist framework to your business or career goals and focus on one main goal and two smaller ones. This will force you to be honest about what matters. It also means that each month you can quickly assess where you are with your goals.
14. What actions will you need to take to achieve those goals?
If you’ve ever dabbled with the Getting Things Done philosophy created by David Allen, then you know the first step in achieving a goal is identifying the most essential action you need to take to get started. Write out one next-action step for each goal. Allen recommends stating the place and the tools you’ll need. For example, “Brainstorm about guest posting ideas in my office with pen and paper,” is an ultra-clear next step. Whereas, “Brainstorm about guest posting,” doesn’t provide as much guidance.
15. Being honest with yourself, do you have time to work on all of your goals this year? I mean really…do you have the time?
There are 15 waking hours in a day. You also need to eat, exercise, spend time with your friends and family, have a shower, rest, and relax. If you don’t have enough time to achieve your goals, take another look at them. How can you tweak your goals to make them attainable? Maybe your small goals need to be even smaller. There’s no sense in setting yourself up for failure.
16. What are you committed to this year?
This isn’t a goal or an intention. This is a desire for yourself and your life. Simplifying your life is a commitment. Putting your happiness first is a commitment. Being compassionately honest is a commitment. Asking the question, “Is this love,” before every big decision is a commitment. Fill in the blank: “I am committed to______.”
17. What is required to make this the best year yet?
This could be anything. It could be something external or something internal. This might sound basic, but for this year, my answer is to stretch my body every day. Stretching makes me feel insanely good, and yet I don’t have a daily practice.
By this point, you might have noticed that it’s possible to get repeat answers when you go through these questions. That’s okay! The repeats indicate areas that are exceptionally important to you.
18. What thoughts will you cultivate to help make this year more delicious?
What you think is your reality. If you only develop the external and not the internal, you’re leaving your experience of life up to chance.
19. What will you stop doing this year to make room for more goodness?
It’s important to stop doing things that don’t move the needle and don’t make you feel good. Is something stressful, tedious, wasteful, or unnecessary? There’s no need to keep at it.
20. What will you start doing to make this year more beautiful?
Maybe you’ll begin daily runs or 5-minute meditations, or you’ll spend more time with friends. It doesn’t have to be something gargantuan to make a difference. It can be tiny. Write as many or as few as you like.
21. What will you keep doing that you find valuable?
It’s important to recognize the things we do that work and to keep doing them. This is how we ensure our good habits don’t slide. It’s also how we honor ourselves and our positive efforts.
BONUS 1: What do you need to feel like yourself?
I need plenty of alone time and long walks in nature. I also need time to read a good book just for fun. An outlet for my creativity is also essential. Knowing what I need in order to feel like myself allows me to take care of myself. This knowledge also helps prevent me from choosing goals that’ll rob me of the things that make my life my own.
BONUS 2: Before you take on any new projects, ask yourself this one question: will this feed my soul before, after, and during the process?
I’ve decided not to pursue making a short narrative film this year because when I asked that question it hit me that I absolutely wouldn’t feel nourished if I took on that project. I’ve already got some big goals. There isn’t room for yet another one. My plan this year is to go deeper not go wider.
If you go through these questions one by one and answer them honestly, you’re guaranteed to make progress over the next 12 months.
Being clear about where we are and where we want to be is the first step towards internal and external growth. Unfortunately, a lot of successful literature is targeted towards the external. Focusing solely on goals and metrics and not on how we want to feel every freaking day.
Our society is focused on measurable goals, reaching physical targets, and increasing revenue and net worth with no thought to whether this will make anyone’s life better.
What does success mean to you? Will earning more money make you happier? Not if you’ve earned that money doing something you dislike. Not if you’ve been stressed and tired the whole time.
We all know *the journey* is what matters.
Yet, in our daily lives, we forget that wisdom. We get out of bed, jump on the hamster wheel, and do everything to achieve our goals (or the goals our companies have created for us). The journey becomes secondary to the results.
2019 was one of the best years of my adult life.
It was brimming with challenges, yet it was also deeply fulfilling. It was a year full of surprises and productivity. I achieved some goals while abandoning others. But it wasn’t the productivity or the goals that made me feel successful; it was the personal transformation. I experienced a feeling of inner peace that came from knowing that I was living an honest life and wasn’t chasing someone else’s dream or ignoring my own needs. I had a roadmap for success that was personal and clear.
Remember that solo show I did? The one with an audience of ten?
From start to finish that was the best show I’d ever done. Not by a little bit. It was miles ahead of what I’d previously achieved as an actor. The show was alive. I felt free. The audience was engaged. Although that show was, by most metrics, a failure, for me it was a massive success. I reached a new level with my art. I walked away from that show stronger than before and I shed tears that I didn’t know I’d been carrying.
Yet, I could have walked away feeling like a failure.
If I’d been obsessed with external metrics, I would have left that stage feeling disappointed by the turnout. Wishing that there’d been more people to see the show. Wishing I’d made time to do marketing and press. Wanting to be validated by something more tangible than my own progress.
Personal transformation will make you feel more fulfilled than external achievements.
The external metrics for success that our society promotes are rarely a good fit for the individual. They’re like hand-me-down clothes that might look great on someone else but aren’t tailor-made for us. They sag and bag in all the wrong places, and we walk around feeling like a not-quite version of ourselves.
These questions (if answered honestly) will create a custom-made success strategy.
You’ll be saying buh-bye to the cookie-cutter goals that push you towards a life you don’t care about. Instead, you’ll have a roadmap that’ll make you feel grounded and purposeful as you tackle the challenges that life tosses you.
The greatest lesson I learned in 2019 was this: real success comes from defining what matters most and going after it.
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About the Author
Hi! I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a solo filmmaker and story strategist based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been making videos and micro films for small businesses and global brands since 2014.
Plus, I LOVE to help aspiring filmmakers pursue their dreams and start making films. This blog is designed to help you gain the knowledge you need to become a filmmaker.
If you want more, get on the waitlist for the Story Envelope Academy Solo Filmmaking Mentorship Program. It opens up 1-2 times per year and is the best way to become a filmmaking or video pro fast!