Success by any other name

How do you define “success”?

  • making a certain amount of money?
  • winning an age group medal in a race?
  • moving into the coveted corner office?
  • going viral on social media?
  • having your blog read and shared by thousands of followers? (okay, count me guilty on this one…)

The other day I was listening to my new best friend podcaster, Jonathan Fields, and he was riffing (his word!) about success, how we measure it and how we might be doing it all wrong. Fields has a knack for putting his own distinct spin on things that we take for granted; instead of thinking as success as an outcome, we’d do better to think of success as putting the work in on the process.

Just last month, I was writing about my finish of the run at Pere Marquette Park and that I felt defeated by what should have been a victory. Simply put, I defined my success — or lack thereof — by how I did compared to all the other runners out there. There are so many things wrong with this!

First, unless I’m spiking pre-race water with, say, prune juice or something else to slow everyone down, I have no control over how the other racers will perform (I’m still working on my mind control skills).

Second, comparison, as I hear it told, is the thief of joy. Or something wise like that.

Third, it’s foolhardy to pin my happiness and feelings of success based on the performance of other people. Doesn’t it make more sense to simply challenge myself?

In the end, it was the metric that I was using to measure success that did me in during that race. It wasn’t that I was slow or that the course was tough or that the other runners were too fast — to salvage both the race and my opinion of myself, I needed to redefine what made me a winner in my own mind. And that definition needs to be under my control and not dependent on external circumstances. So, what makes me successful?

  • Training and going into the race with a good attitude
  • Giving my best effort out on the course
  • Finishing the race, completing what I started
  • Giving myself the credit I deserve for doing everything within my control to turn in a good performance.

I had set pace goals for this race, but even that’s a dangerous way to measure success. Yes, I beat my goal, but if I didn’t and I still left my best out there on the course, would I be any less successful? It’s hard for me to change this way of thinking, but yes — I would still be successful. Last time I checked, I wasn’t earning money doing this, so I get to pick which lens through which I want to view my performance.

The key is this — I can’t control other people and I oftentimes cannot control any sort of outcome, so the best way for me to get the “W” is to measure myself based on those things that I can control. Yes – outcomes are awesome and rewarding, but my focus always has to be on the things that I can do to get me the outcome I want. It’s a weird line to draw, but it’s important: as long as I do everything I can to get the outcome I want, I’m successful whether or not I actually get that outcome. Make sense?

And this applies to so many areas of my life:  if I want to lose weight, I need to stop focusing on the numbers and instead focus on what influences those numbers — eating healthy and working out. If I want to be a fast runner, I need to focus on training. If I want to be a famous blogger, I have to write awesome blog posts and spread the word about my awesomeness. I might not get the results that I’m looking for, but if I gave my best effort, then it’s not a failure. I might need to change tactics or tweak my process to get different (and desired) outcomes, but the work that I’ve put in already gives me enough to feel good about.

Short and sweet, that’s the lesson I learned this week.


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