What is Success, Anyway?

I had the great pleasure of meeting some wonderful people on a recent trip to Colorado.  One of them felt like a “new old friend” – one of those people who for no readily-apparent reason I just instantly like and can talk with easily, as if meeting with an old friend.

Like me, she’s had setbacks, including painful injuries.  while admittedly, I don’t know all that much about her, but she is smart, pretty, and has accomplished a lot in her trips around the sun.  She told me, quietly, that she doesn’t think she’s successful.  I asked her, “what does it mean to be successful?

She told me that she’d have to think about it.   It told her that I would, too.

Dictionary.com lists three definitions for the word “success.”

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.

I don’t really feel that any of those definitions defines what I look at when I attempt to define “success” as it applies to me or to those who I encounter in daily life.

If I accomplish one set of goals, I may have achieved success, but am I still “successful” if I simply stop there?  Are the possession of wealth, position and honors a good measure of success, really?

Is my success as a lawyer determined by my financial gain or by the number of people whose lives I touch?  Is my success as a measured by keeping my children alive to adulthood, or must they thrive on their own in an adult world?

I didn’t feel very successful as a young adult.  I don’t know what my personal measure of success was at 28, but I do recall that I was nervous about meeting my biological grandparents because I was divorced, a single parent and overweight.  I didn’t consider that the fact that  I was employed, working hard and buying my own home may have looked like success to my grandparents.

As a 33-year-old undergraduate student, I tutored a young man in math.  I was not a top math student, but my scores were higher than his, so I learned how to solve the problems and then I taught him to solve them, too.  We both passed the class.  That was definitely a success.

My personal framework for success is evolving.  At one time, I would have deemed myself a success having received a college degree.  When I attained that goal, I was proud for a moment, but I still didn’t feel successful.    Now that I have a BA and  JD and my own law practice, I feel successful when I win an argument and I don’t feel successful when I compare my paycheck to that of a colleague working for a big firm.

Since my conversation a month ago with my new, old friend, I have put some thought into answering the question of, “what is success?”

I’ve trained for two half-marathons.  In both cases, I logged hundreds of miles in training.  I did not finish my first attempt.  I did finish my second attempt.  Was I a failure the first time and a success the second time?  If “success” is measured by completing a race, then that is the case.  Although I felt momentarily defeated when I was “swept” from the course on that first attempt, I was proud of having successfully completed a training program, losing a bunch of weight, and gaining a lot of self-confidence.  I overcame a lot of obstacles in order to chalk up that failure.  Overall, that experience, and the fire it lit under me to finish the next time was definitely a contributing factor to my later “success.”

Speaking of that weight – I still have a sizeable amount to release.  am I a success for having lost over 100 lbs and keeping most of it off, or must I reach that elusive “goal weight” to be a success in the health arena?  Do my A1C, resting heart rate and blood pressure measurements contribute to success?

I’m very much a success story in some arenas.  In other areas, I’m a desperate failure.  I choose not to focus on those because I can only fix one or two things at a time.

One person who reads my musings may call me a “thought leader.”  Another recently told me I was full of Bull***t.  Guess which one I listened to (and then look back at the space between my blog posts in recent months…)

For today, I will define “success” as living a life consistent with my values.  That’s a higher bar than one would think some days.

What is “success”?  Do you feel successful?  What will it take for you to feel like a success?  Leave em a comment.  Let’s have a conversation.

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