What is Success?


Such a loaded word. It can be empowering, disempowering, depressing and enervating all at the same time. It unites AND separates people. Say the word and the typical association is usually material wealth and perhaps a glamorous lifestyle. Not that those are necessarily bad.

Success and I have had a tumultuous relationship. There were times I found it alluring and seductive. It was even on a pedestal once. Then it fell from grace, and I grew contemptuous of it. Hated it. Hated what it represented, what it did to people, and how it made people judge me.

It’s about YOU.

Until one day, it hit me. I’d been really, really, REALLY stupid. Everything I thought success was, had been implied by my environment. Sure, it was extremely strongly implied but no one ever said that I couldn’t come up with my own definition of what it meant to be successful. I had been working on assumptions all along! Duh.

I don’t know when you realised it, but the day I decided success is something for me to define, it was a very very good day. Freedom! Also, it’s much more a journey, than it is a destination. That gives it room to change and evolve.

Ten years ago, success would have been about doing a good job on a film shoot, or getting a promotion at work. These days, success is about spending time with family and friends, having productive sessions with clients and students, remembering to spend time away from the computer(!), eating healthily, and sleeping early (<- would you believe this is the most challenging?!).

Not anyone else.

The more we are able to embrace different and personal definitions of success, the happier everyone will be.

That was a sentence I struggled with while writing this post. If you take it at face value, sure, it works. But it didn’t sit well with me. There’s an underlying bit suggesting that to some extent, our success depends on whether other people celebrated our success.

And I don’t like that.

It’s not about being cynical a la the Divine Ms M:

The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you.


But needing people to feel happy for us in order to feel successful is quite unnecessary.

They may not know why being able to make a living being a freelancer means that you are a success. They may not comprehend a situation where you can throw in your resignation letter when you don’t have another job lined up means you are a success. They may not understand that when you have other priorities, you are being successful even when you choose to stay at a job you don’t particularly love.

It’s not their fault.

Success means different things to different people because we each have to walk our path in our own way. If you have people around you who genuinely celebrate your successes, enjoy it and be grateful.

If not, release those expectations and need for validation, and celebrate your successes anyway! (Funny thing is, those people who will be truly happy for you, they show up once you start doing that.)

Size matters.

I used to think of success as the peak of a huge, steep mountain where I’d practically have to kill myself getting there. The problem is, that kind of thinking just stops me in my tracks and I freeze up. Hello, Procrastination.

Once I started seeing that the little things count *a lot*, I decided to break everything down into habits and tasks, and try to focus on being successful there instead. After all, habits = character = destiny. Right? ;)

It’s not perfect, cos the Shoulds still pay me a visit now and then, but most habits are easy enough to do that, more often than not, I go to bed feeling quite happy. And right now, ‘more often than not’, is good enough for me.

Bob Dylan says it perfectly:

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.

I’m not quite there yet, but I’m on my way ;)

What about you? How do YOU define success at this point in time?

The Declaration of You will be published by North Light Craft Books this summer, with readers getting all the permission they’ve craved to step passionately into their lives, discover how they and their gifts are unique and uncover what they are meant to do! This post is part of The Declaration of You’s BlogLovin’ Tour, which I’m thrilled to participate in alongside over 100 other creative bloggers. Learn more — and join us!

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  1. Maggie M. says:

    I recently out up a quote from Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” That’s a definition I can get behind.

    • Hey Maggie, didn’t realise you had already found your way here :)

      I love that quote too. Profound and fundamental truth.

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