At work, it’s usually pretty easy to know if you’re being successful, hitting those targets that have been set (whether by you or your leaders). There are definitive numbers that need to be met and when you meet or exceed them. Hooray! Confetti rains down along with a nice bonus! Or maybe it’s a “Thank you, keep up the great work” kind of conversation. Either way, you know where you stand.

It can get a lot more confusing in mythical Work-Life-Balance-Land. Speaking from experience, I assure you your 4-year-old will not be overly impressed if you exceeded your annual targets, but they definitely will be if you read a story in a silly voice. 

Why do we struggle to feel successful in our life, even when everything seems to be going well at work? It comes down (as so many things do) to clarity and intention. 

First, clarity. Have you stopped to think about what a successful life means to you (and to your partner if you’re in a relationship)? Do you know what truly matters to your family? What are you willing to give up and what is a non-negotiable item? For some people, it’s uninterrupted time as a family with no cell phones. For others, it’s turning off the radio to talk about everyone’s day as they drive to the evening activity. Whatever it is to you, it’s something you do consistently and that you prioritize above everything else (yes, even that important evening work meeting!). 

Next, intention. Now that you know what success means to you (which will be different from what it means to me, or your neighbor, or your boss, or your mother-in-law), how are you taking intentional action to make that success happen? What do you need to say no to in order to keep your priorities aligned? What things do you need to add? Determine the changes that you need to make and take action.

Neil Pasricha had a fantastic article on this topic that has some great practical examples of how he and his spouse approached this exercise as a “life contract” in the same way that job duties and expectations are detailed out in a work contract.

In my own life, I’ve seen what a difference having a specific set of priorities has made for me and my family. Sure I could try to squeeze more stuff into my days, but what I value is quality time with my family. It has to be a really amazing opportunity or activity for me to even consider giving up eating dinner together and talking about the highs and lows of our days.

When we lack clarity in any area of our lives, we’re left with a vague sense of not meeting expectations somehow. Then we struggle to quantify in what ways our life balance is off, which makes it particularly hard to correct it. Instead, once you’ve defined success that feeling disappears and you’re left with a sense of calm (even among the chaos of deadlines and school concerts!) that you’re doing those things that you value most. 

Now that sounds like success to me!