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Defining Success for Yourself

Deciding what success means for you is part of being autonomous and authentic.

Unsplash/Pexels, CC0
Source: Unsplash/Pexels, CC0

Author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn has a terrific blog post titled “What Is Your Definition of Success? How Do You Measure It?” In it, she emphasizes the importance of deciding what success—in this case, as a writer—means for each writer herself or himself. She suggests asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is your definition of success—for this particular book and for your writing career?
  2. How will you track and measure that success?
  3. What do you want to do with that success? What is the point in your work?

Of particular importance, Penn notes, is the balance between the practical needs for some level of financial success, especially if writing is your primary source of income, and the more idealistic type of success that comes from doing work you’re proud of doing.

Penn notes that only does every writer need to decide how they will answer these questions at any given time, but that their answers to these questions “will also tend to change over time as your definition of success will be dependent on the progression of your writing career.”

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Whether or not you’re a writer, defining what success means to you is an important part of defining yourself as an individual. This is especially important because other people, or society in general, will be more than happy to impose their ideas of success on you. (This is a theme of my book The Decline of the Individual, coming out later this year.)

Some of these ideas are based on your job or career: a lawyer, for instance, may be expected to generate a certain number of billable hours and attract a certain number of clients, with the reward of being made partner. A classical musician may be expected to land a position in a prominent orchestra, or play Carnegie Hall as a soloist. Other standards are imposed by family and friends, such as being married by a certain age and to a certain kind of person, or having children.

Not all definitions of success that come from other people are bad, and some may seem quite reasonable and natural. The important thing is that you need to endorse them yourself, to agree that they reflect the standards you want to live up to, and that you’re not simply accepting the standards you’re “given.”

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As regular readers of this blog might remember, I’ve long suffered from a lack of goals or direction, always keeping busy but not quite knowing why. In other words, I don’t have a picture of success to measure my progress and achievements against.

As a result, I think about these issues a lot, particularly in terms of being a writer and an academic, as I talked about in an earlier post. In the next two posts, I’ll discuss what success can mean in terms of each of these fields, but I hope they would apply to whatever field you’re in (or hope to be in).

More from Mark D. White Ph.D.
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