What Success Looks Like



What does success look like to you?

If you’re like most people, you’d probably say that it comes after the result of a big achievement or when a big goal is realized.

Let’s look at this scenario as an example:

A writer works on a book for about a year.  He writes, edits and puts everything together until it’s finished.  After everything is completed, it gets published.

At what moment was he successful?

Most people would say that moment happened when his book was published.  Others would say that it comes later when he sees how many people buy and read it.

This is the traditional view of success.  It’s seen as a line to be crossed or an end result you wanted.

While I agree with this view in principle, I find it too narrow a definition.  It focuses too much on end results.

Instead I like to take a wider view of what success looks like.  Instead of focusing entirely on the completion of large goals, I look at the small scale too.

I find this small scale view of success is just as important as the large one, but often gets overlooked.

Let’s return to our example of the writer.  The traditional view sees his success happening after publication.  With that viewpoint, success is reached when he reached that endpoint.

But publication is only one obstacle he had to face.  There is a long list of other problems and obstacles he had to face during that year.

In order to publish, he had to write every single day.  There are organizational problems and formatting issues he had to consider too.

Every day he overcame one of those problems – no matter how small it is  – is a success.

Most of us don’t think of success in these terms.  Success has to be something grand and huge in scope, doesn’t it?

Well, not everything needs to be huge in scale.  Look at all these small things I do that make me feel successful:

Every day I work out is a success.

Every day I write is a success.

Every time I eat well instead of poorly is a success.

Just because they aren’t huge goals like publishing a book or running a marathon doesn’t mean they’re not an accomplishment.

Stop seeing tiny habits as too insignificant.  These are often the most important part of our days.  When you do them, you should feel great about yourself – feel like a success.

But there’s still more we can expand on with the definition.

This is also what success looks like:

I was watching a documentary a few weeks ago about movie extras.

Their life is hard.  They work long days for little pay – most of them don’t earn a decent living.  And it’s all in the hope that they’ll make it big in Hollywood themselves.

Apparently many of them have been trying to land a big role for years.  One of them said that he had been trying for over seven years.

But when asked if he would ever give up, he just shrugged it off and said he wouldn’t.  He didn’t want to do anything else so he would just keep trying no matter how long it took.

That attitude, to me, is also a form of success.

I admire his determination.  Too few people have the ability to keep going no matter what.

Expand Your Definition

Too many of us are preoccupied with the notion that success comes when you see major results.  It’s when a writer finishes a book.  It’s when a weightlifter wins a weight-lifting competition.

The problem with that approach is that it’s tied too closely to an end result.

When you do that, you’re only a success when you reach a finish line.

You have to include everything you do on the way to those end goals.  You have to include all those little obstacles and problems you overcome every day.

Success isn’t only some pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It’s all around us in our daily behavior and habits.

Don’t narrow your definition of success.  When you do, you’ll feel bad if you fall short of some desired result.  You’ll feel a lot better – and a lot more successful – if you expand your definition.
photo credit: David

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  1. Hey Steve – all good points here. We gotta take the small wins as success and setting us up for bigger wins down the road.

    Definitions of success for me include starting, finishing too, showing up, doing what you enjoy doing and being grateful for the journey. It also includes having fun and achieving my goals with people I enjoy working with. And seeing others succeed on their goals and dreams as well.

    Narrow definitions of success or even worse, other people’s definition or standards of success, can really paralyze us from taking action and achieving our goals.

  2. Hey Steve,

    “Success is when you feel so much fear about doing something that you almost talk yourself out of doing it. Then you scrounge up that last bit of courage and do it anyway.”

    – I’ve definitely had the same thoughts myself.A large part of my definition of success if becoming a lot more consistent in not being overwhelmed by fear, but accepting it and doing something anyway. It’s a bit like Stephen Pressfield has said:

    “The difference between a pro and an amateur is that the amateur thinks he will start once he has gotten over the fear, the pro knows that the fear never truly disappaears, but acts despite that.”

    Broccoli is for winners! :)

    • I agree with that quote. I’ve done some crazy things in my days, but the fear never truly disappears. It’s about being able to control it rather than eliminating it. The way I look at it, if you can control fear so it never stops you from doing what you want, so much more of the world will open up to you.

  3. Steve, I really love this. Too often we do tie our successes to “big” things and end result and ignore the cries for enjoying the ride and the small steps. I only experienced this in my recent life history. I would have to say that it’s the overall changes we made to our lives that mean the most and that has to do with simplifying and daily habits. I think the daily walk and time with CJ mean more to me than any award at work or fancy car ever could. When we make our (same!) lunch every day together in the kitchen and sit down to eat it, I am as excited as the first day we were able to do it. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up on dreams, but I have a whole different outlook on success than I did ten years ago in my early thirties.

    Thank you for a great post.

    • That’s an interesting story. It’s interesting how much our daily habits and behaviors affect our lives, but it seems like the big changes are the ones that grab our attention the most. The little things in life are important too.

  4. Steve,

    This is a great reminder that the little successes are often what lead to the big successes in life. As I slog through the prep work towards my dissertation proposal, I realize that every day of focused effort (even if for 20 minutes) gets me closer…and that’s success.

    Love your posts.

    • Thanks, Marie, I’m glad you love the posts. I hope you find that focused effort for your dissertation – that’s hard work. Every little bit you do will just get you closer to the end.

  5. Steve – I like what you say about success being in the narrower definition. It’s all too easy to miss the little things. and left over a period of time, the little things are missed and the big things are too big to achieve.

    Cue; misery !

    • Well, the little successes will come more frequently than the big ones. We should feel good about all the good things we do – big or small.

  6. Hey Steve,

    I couldn’t agree more with you (and with Razwana’s point above),

    success means different things to different people. I reckon my own personal definition of what success means to me probably changed significantly about 5 years ago.

    So perhaps not only different things to different people but also different things to the same person at different times too…

    • My definition has changed over the years too. You never know – it might change again over the coming years. But I think I’ll still try to keep the definition as open as possible.

  7. Love this one, Steve. Your points are spot-on. Little victories can make such a huge difference in the end. And I love the one you included about a person whose head is full of doubt, but forges on anyway. Reminds me of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus knows he can’t win Tom Robinson’s case, but he tells his daughter Scout “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.” That takes serious guts.

    I like to remember Ben Franklin’s thoughts about success…in his Autobiography he writes of his attempts to achieve moral perfection. He didn’t succeed, but in his reflections comes to the conclusion that perhaps he did succeed after all. Even though he didn’t reach that goal of perfection (which is really unattainable to begin with) he decides that he is better for the effort and that’s a success all its own.

    • I love To Kill a Mockingbird and I remember that scene. There’s a lot of truth to it. Sometimes you have to put in your best effort even if you don’t think you’ll win – sometimes you have to forge on anyway.

      That’s an interesting perspective from Ben Franklin. I read his autobiography many years ago, but unfortunately don’t remember much from it. I’m reading some Plato right now and Franklin’s logic reminds me of Socrates for some reason. That might just be me though.

  8. Steve

    This is the first article I have read of yours and it is super. I totally agree with you.

    It all about looking for any excuse we can in life to tell ourselves that we are fabulous, isn’t it? That is what I think anyway.

    Anytime we feel joyful (about anything) or we feel love in our hearts, we are successful!

    Will be following your articles more closely and definitely giving this one a well deserved, loving twit tweet.

    Happy Sunday!

    • Well, it’s not just about making any excuse to feel good. It’s about acknowledging the little things that we do that are good. Sometimes the small things we do that take our step in a better direction don’t get recognized. I think it’s about time that we realize just how much they can mean.

  9. I definitely like to pat myself on the back for all milestones reached, big and small. Those little successes really add up. Even if the end result isn’t achieved, the steps along the way weren’t wasted. The knowledge, skills, and experiences expand our minds to new possibilities that we otherwise would never have seen.

    • Exactly. End results are great, but when we pin too much on them, we lose focus on all the good things we do along the way. Even if you don’t reach them, you still can benefit – skills, experiences, knowledge. Those are all things we can get in our daily habits and not necessarily from an end result.

  10. great point, Steve! I think you’re right that we shouldn’t focus only on the end. I think every day that a person is working towards a goal, taking one step in that direction qualifies as success. I think this mindset also helps us keep the momentum so we don’t feel like our success is far off in the future somewhere.

  11. If I’ve learned anything this year, it is that a little effort over a long period of time makes a huge impact. Whether weight loss or writing, we are what do over a long period of time. That means each individual day matters – each workout, each meal, and each blog post. Great reminders Steve!

  12. Great thoughts here. Being in the game and taking action is a huge aspect of success. When we do that the rewards and benefits follow. The key is to start!

  13. Oliver Benson says:

    Hey Steve, not sure if you still read these comments, but I thought I would anyway :)

    This reminded me of the way people are judged and feel judged. If you’re an actor and you want to be a successful actor, it takes more than just having lots of fans, and the respect of them. To be successful you need to be respected and applauded for what you do, unless you let go of being perfect. Even if you were the best writer in the world, some people would still refuse to read your blog no matter how successful it was and if they did, they would never embrace it.

    The million dollar question is this then: is it better to sacrifice your happiness to maybe gain a higher social status and be respected by slightly more people, or is it better to simply be happy?

    I don’t know and probably no-one does. I’d be interested in what you think though

  14. I love your approach of rectifying living and appreciating your accomplishments in the moment, as well as appreciating your accomplishments in the long-term. I know I personally fall into the trap of not stepping back from my life and appreciating all I’ve accomplished.

    To me, what success looks like are results. There should be a result (and intention) behind every action of mine, both in the short- and long-term. I think whether it’s to invest in our relationships, get fitter, or just relax, there’s always a short-term and long-term result we want form our actions.


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