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How Do You Define Success?

Graduation season is approaching for many students and as a result, there are scores of people who are looking ahead while celebrating fairly monumental achievements. From high schools to colleges to universities, celebrating success in the moment and successes to come is the byword.

But what is success? I mean, when you get right down to it?

For many people, success goes hand in hand with delayed gratification. One will be successful somewhere down the road: finishing school, landing the dream job, buying the house, traveling to that exotic destination, paying off all the debt, and so on. And these are certainly successes worth celebrating.

According to the Oxford Languages Dictionary, success is one of (or all of) 3 things:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
  2. The attainment of fame, wealth or social status
  3. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.

These are pretty well the standard definitions and the ones that we tend to live by when it comes to moving ahead and setting goals.

I’m not here to argue that these are bad things or wrong. But they aren’t the whole picture either.

The problem with limiting success in these definitions is that it assumes that success is linear and external. You go to school, work hard, get promoted, get the things, retire, you are successful. But this constant looking forward and outward means that you miss a lot of success right here and now. It also leads many people to constantly feel like they aren’t measuring up: I should have gotten that promotion by now. I should be making a lot of money by now, etc.

Karen Mangia, author of Working From Home, instead believes that we need to define success as something that has no timeline and is on our own terms in this moment and in this place. How are you a success right now? Maybe it is that you are about to accept your diploma or maybe it’s that you got out of bed. Maybe you chose to drink water instead of pop at lunchtime. Are these not successes?

I think it would be easy to say that getting your doctorate is not on the same level as choosing to drink water and you’re right – getting a doctorate is arguably a lot harder (and more expensive). But we aren’t comparing success stories here. We are instead inviting more success in our lives by broadening our definition from the external and distant to the internal and immediate. Who doesn’t want to have more success, both the large and the small?

This is just a small piece as we go into summer, but something to think about: what success can you celebrate today and how does that help you feel more successful and build more success moving forward?


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