Defining Success For Yourself

Define success. What does it mean to you?

I was speaking with one of my best friends tonight. It was one of those conversations that brings you closer and seems to make the world a little bit clearer. She shared…

“When I make music I feel like I am doing something that I need to do. It isn’t just playing music, it is fulfilling a need in me. Sometimes I look back and wish that I had done something more with it.”

She is a musician. She has a gift for song writing, singing and playing piano by ear. I used to be her roommate, so I know her gifting well.

I asked her, “Why not do something now?”

She proceeded to give an array of reasons why. She said she has family responsibility, that it takes time and energy, and that she feels too old to start.

I responded, “Yes, you do have responsibilities, and it does take up time...but what is really the reason that you don’t do it?”

She paused and then admitted something difficult. 

“My father is a musical genius. He is respected by everyone for his ability to make amazing music. Growing up with that, it is hard not to compare myself. What if I am not good enough? I think about the fact that there's already a lot of good music out. They don’t need my music.”

//

What my friend said echoes in the hearts of many of us.
What if?
What if I put myself out there and they don’t like it?
What if I'm not good enough?
What if I fail?

So I asked her something I have to ask myself all the time.

“Ten years from now, which would seem worse to you? Looking back knowing that you tried and didn’t reach some cultural standard of success, or looking back and knowing that you didn’t try because you might fail?”

Again, she paused thoughtfully and answered.

“Well, I guess I would have to say looking back and not trying.”

This sparked an even deeper conversation about success. What is success? How do we define it individually? And if we have something that breathes life into us, what should we do with that?

Here is what we came up with.

If we find that there is something we do that brings life to us; we should give our attention to it. It's kind of big…even if it seems small. And there may be a responsibility to not only do that thing because it gives us life, but to also share it, because it may breathe life into someone else. 

Yet many times we don’t pursue that life giving gift, or we keep it hidden for fear that it may not be accepted. It may “fail”.

Measuring ourselves against the cultural standard, the standard of our fathers or friends, or even against the little negative voices in our heads is paralyzing. It is based in fear. When we measure ourselves according to what others see as success we are losing a piece of ourselves.

//

Here is what I am realizing for myself. I do not fit into that 9 to 5-move on up the ladder-box. I am slightly jealous of those that do fit into that idea because it seems so clear cut. So American dream. But what I am seeing, is that we are all trying to cram into one box, and cramming millions of people into one box…well…it can become quite stifling in there. Maybe there are other boxes we haven’t thought of. Maybe, just maybe, some of us are better suited to be out of the box.

For me, I realize that knowing who I am and what makes me tick and then living without excuse within that; that is what my success looks like.

It is not our responsibility to measure success or failure according to cultural standards, family standards, or even the standards in our heads; that’s God’s responsibility. It is only our responsibility to openly and boldly share the gifts that are within us.


Jessica is a New Yorker, writer, photographer, life enthusiast and dreamer! Her blog is full of stories, annotates, and self discovery, and it's her hope that these narratives inspire others to be courageously open in their own lives. Take an adventurous journey with her as we all explore who we are and learn to laugh through the rain! Visit Jessica's blog at themisshappenstances.com.