You Can Do It: Defining, Owning and Achieving Success

When a student pointed out to me I knew a lot of successful people, I was surprised. I had brought in a couple of guest speakers, one a NY Times/USA Today Bestselling novelist, another an artist and musician from Latvia. I’d mentioned in class my friend who is a lead singer of a national battle of the bands winner. I shared my experiences meeting comic artists and John Ratzenberger at Comicon. My high school best friend has her Doctorate in Genetic Engineering. So yeah. I guess I do know a lot of successful people.

But these were the obvious people. They had earned awards and recognition and degrees. My students heard about other people, too. A comic book store owner. A talented actress pursuing her Masters. A friend who had traveled to at least three different countries on her own. A top student in the nursing program. A single mother returning to college to get a medical degree. A couple who created beautiful CDs while working real life. A friend who moved to England and was adapting Poe’s short stories for the stage.

And these are just my friends from the ‘hood! I didn’t pursue these people outside of local community interaction.

I find I surround myself with successful people, but that isn’t the whole story. And here is where I will surprise some of my friends who don’t really know me that well. I find success in people. I love to find what it is about them and find success in them. And if they haven’t found success, I love to help them find it. Helping people find their value is one of my biggest joys in life.

Finding success in others does not mean I just look at the good in them. In fact, I see lots of “bad” in people (my friends who don’t really know me will believe that). But acknowledging the “bad” is part of what makes success possible. If you want a successful project, you find its weaknesses and eliminate them or turn them into strengths. If you are trying to better yourself, you find your challenges and overcome them. And if I want someone to see their success, it means seeing what holds them back, too.

Trying to achieve success can be treacherous. If we pursue success in the wrong manner, we can drown in disappointment. That’s why it is important to be deliberate about success. We can wait for it to happen, or we can plan for it. Which do you think is most effective?

Defining Your Success

The first step to achieving success is to define it. Many can use popular opinion, but we all know people who were popular, but not necessarily successful at what they did. And we know people who were amazing, though they never got recognition. In order for you to find your success, you need to know what it looks like.

When defining success, my strongest advice is to create measurable, manageable definitions. Draw a line in the sand that you can say, “Here! Here I am successful.” Being a great _________ will never happen. If you want to find success, you must be specific, like “I will write a 50,000 word novel in November for NaNoWriMo.” Then you know exactly when you have achieved that success.

Make your definition of success something you can achieve without the approval of others. Consider awards and recognition as a perk, but no one can keep you from your success. Especially if the approval has such a slim chance of being won.

Surround yourself with people who celebrate your success. We all have friends and family who are impressed with NY Times Bestseller status, but we need people who acknowledge the success in a plot drawn out, a series of four paintings, a set number of experiments. My bff is amazing at this. I pale in comparison. I tell her I finally found an idea for my story, and she rejoices. I tell her about a measly scene I wrote, and she is as excited as I am about it. Find someone like this.

Fourth, find success in other people. Consider it practice. If you learn to find success in others, you are more likely to see it in yourself. This also fosters a community of encouragement.

Finally, celebrate. I don’t care if it’s little. I don’t care if you remembered to take your medication every day this week. Celebrate it. But caution–celebrate in relevant and healthy ways. Don’t eat a bag of Cheetos every time you finish a blog. Don’t go on a bender because you finished your project at work. Find something you enjoy, even in small doses, and reward yourself on an appropriate level.

Owning Your Success

Defining success in this way is not without its disadvantages. After encouraging a friend to define quality time with his family, he argued that creating definitions and goals can undermine the intention. Sure. If you let it. But I think not knowing what quality time means is more dangerous. You don’t know if you are doing it, and you don’t know if it is having the effect you want.

One of the other disadvantages is that there are no excuses. Correction. There is one excuse: you held yourself back. You chose another path. And that’s ok sometimes.What isn’t ok is blaming others for you not being successful. Don’t give anyone else the power to determine your success.

Achieving Your Success

When no one else is encouraging you, when the uncontrollable seems to be working against you, defining your own success can be the impetus to break you through.

I once said I will know I am successful when I appear on Ellen. What’s cool about Ellen, though, is she has people who are successful, but not in the superstar way. She has ordinary people on her show who do relatively ordinary things we can all do. She celebrates success in a way that validates all of us as human beings. Because, well, we’re pretty awesome when we choose to be.


One thought on “You Can Do It: Defining, Owning and Achieving Success

  1. Great thoughts! I agree completely that you need to set your own goals and definitions. I don’t think that changes the intention, as your friend said. What has been shown is that those who know their goals – and keep them posted where they can see them – make it. Most people spend more time on a grocery list or vacation planning than thinking about what it means to be successful. Thanks for reminding us to take the time to define our own success.


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