success quote

“Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve! Achieve!” —Andrew Carnegie

I like this quote by Andrew Carnegie. It’s motivating and inspirational. It fires me up. It makes me want to produce a bright, shiny graphic for my Pinterest account.

Moreover, I want to believe I’m on the threshold of unparalleled success and that a whole, clear, glorious life lies before me.

All the things I want to do, I’ll be successful!

All the things I want to achieve, I’ll achieve them!

I’m on fire!

I’m unstoppable!

But let’s get real for a moment. That’s not exactly true. I spent years of my life feeling like a failure because the biggest obstacle between me and success was, well, me.

And it wasn’t because I wasn’t achieving the success I had set out to achieve. It was because I didn’t know how to define what success was.

Success isn’t always dollars and cents

For most of us, we measure success monetarily. The size of our homes and our bank accounts; the price tag on our cars, the name brands on our clothes. Success seems to have a value attached to it and it coincides with the number on our paychecks.

But in psychology-speak, a number on a paycheck is known as an extrinsic motivation. It is a reward set by someone, or something, outside of ourselves which motivates us to do the things that we do. Extrinsic motivation is like a drug: whoever is offering it has to continue offering it because we can’t produce it ourselves, and the payoff has to get progressively better in order to keep our motivation high to to attain it.

In real life, that means continuous pay raises, promotions, job perks, and prestige. In order to keep the rat running through the maze, the cheese has to keep coming and, to keep his performance at optimal levels, the cheese needs to get stinkier and more delicious over time. Otherwise, the rat loses interest and so do we.

This is why folks in our modern society find themselves in the “success trap.” We work so hard to attain all the outward measures of success, only to realize that what we’ve collected isn’t an accurate reflection of success at all.

We plummet into despair when we realize it’s just a bunch of cheese and we are the rat.

Redefining success.

For most human beings, feeling successful depends on intrinsic motivation. 

Our motivation for doing the things we do needs to come from inside of us, and not from an external source.

In order to feel successful, we have to achieve things we find meaningful. To achieve things we find meaningful, we have to use our talents, skills, and abilities in alignment with our purpose. When we do that, our “paycheck” becomes the joy we feel from doing those things.

Success is different for everyone and unique to each of us.

And here’s the kicker, our measure of success changes over time, as it should. 

Success changes with our phase of life.

Success in young adulthood may mean independence, success in middle adulthood may mean being good parents ourselves. Success in later adulthood may mean financial security, and success in late adulthood may mean leaving a legacy behind us when we’re gone.

Each measure of success requires different actions to achieve it, and what we may consider “successful” in our twenties may be totally different from what we consider successful in our fifties.

But we fall into another “success trap” by thinking that we can–and should— “have it all,” all the time.

This is one of the most harmful myths perpetuated by modern society today (and it’s often directed at women.)

Women are led to believe that they *should* be able to raise a family, keep a house, cook dinner every night, work forty hours per week, attend every soccer game, climb the corporate ladder, volunteer for that extra project, manage a department, attend all the play dates, be away on business trips, shop for (and pack) organic lunches every day, join the P.T.A., make everyone’s bed every morning and have clean socks in the drawers at all times.

This is ridiculous. Yet, so many of us believe it.

The reality is that success looks different for everyone and changes as our priorities change.

We have to allow ourselves the grace to call our success “success,” even when it doesn’t look like what society tells us it *should* be.

Did you know? There is no “wrong way” to adult. 

When I quit working to be a stay at home mom, I felt like a failure because I had given up my job and my income en lieu of story time and play dates. In reality, I wanted nothing more than to raise my baby full time and in spite of the financial and emotional strain, I achieved that. That was SUCCESS.

A few years later when I started my own business as a personal trainer, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t working in my degree field and I was earning much less than I had previously. In reality, I only wanted to work 3 hours a day while my son was in preschool and personal training allowed me to do that. For those three hours a day, I was fully booked doing a job I loved. That was SUCCESS!

Most recently, I went back to school to finish my graduate degree. Returning to school at age forty to finish a degree I had started while in my twenties made me feel like a failure. How could I have wasted so much time? In reality, I needed that time to heal old wounds which now makes me a much better clinician that I ever would have been in my twenties or thirties. That is SUCCESS!

Today, I encourage all of us to recognize that we are always in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time. By achieving our heart’s desires, we will find the success we are looking for. However, by setting out to be “successful” we may never achieve our heart’s desires.

The way to becomes successful is to first define what success means to us. 


*For a couple of good reads on finding both success and balance, I recommend reading  this  and this.


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