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.”
- the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
- the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
- 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.