How Do You Know When You’ve Reached Success?

Rib Eye Steak Dinner

Rib Eye Steak Dinner

I wrote about why you’re afraid of success. A rousing little debate ensued in the comment section of that post. Exactly what is “success”? Here at Men with Pens, we tend to talk about “success” as though it were synonymous with “being a freelancer”, mostly because that’s what this blog is all about.

(Read: this blog is all about me, me, me. And Jamie. But mostly me. Since I arrived, that is. I suppose it was mostly all about James before I got here. Not so anymore.)

Laying selfishness aside, as we all so hate to do, I began to contemplate the notion of “success”.

It seems that we have many different ideas of success. Some are relationship oriented – “I will be successful when I’m in a loving, committed relationship.” Some are professional – “I will be successful when I get to be vice-president of the company.”

Some are deeply personal. “I will be successful when I stop being afraid of everything.” “I will be successful when my mother thinks I’m successful.” “I will be successful when I move to a house where I can have a dog.”

Many of our personal success aspirations have nothing to do with any “success” that an outsider would be able to measure. Our personal successes are often so deeply ingrained that we can’t quite put a finger on them ourselves. We don’t know why it’s so important to us to have that house with the dog – but we know that having a dog is really, really important.

Even more, we know that every day without that accomplishment, we haven’t made it yet. Until that dog is happily chasing dragonflies in the back yard, we are not a success.

Does it make sense? Maybe not. Maybe not to anyone else. But we all have these deeply personal markers of success. Some are tangible; some are not.

My thinking is that it’s worth dragging those markers of success out into the sunshine and taking a good, hard look at them.

It’s also worth putting them in order of priority.

To use myself as an example, supporting a family is not high on my list of successes. I’ve never once thought to myself, “I know I’m a success when I can support a family.” This is mostly because I have never equated wiping pureed carrot off an infant’s chin as a big accomplishment, but I know a lot of people who would wipe away with tears of pride in their eyes. Because they’d made it.

I know at least three friends of mine think about that particular success on a regular basis. They measure their lives, careers, and personal accomplishments against that yardstick. “Can I support a family yet? No? Then I’m not a success.”

For me, I’ll know I’m a success when I simply don’t need to worry about money anymore. We’re not talking millionaire status here. We’re talking I-can-buy-a-new-TV-without-having-to-check-my-bank-balance-first status. We’re talking that getting a speeding ticket isn’t cause for panic simply because that wasn’t in the budget. We’re talking that I can go out for dinner as many times a week as I want – and I can order the steak, too.

That’s “success” for me, in business. I have relationship successes and personal successes too. And when I’m feeling frustrated or stuck, it helps a lot to keep that idea of success in front of me. We all need a big shiny dream to think about sometimes. We need the castles we build in the air.

So what does success look like, for you? This is storytelling time, folks. Nothing is too silly. And it doesn’t have to be business-related, either. When I started asking what success would look like, what did you think of?

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.