Defining Success

Once again the holiday season is upon us. It is a time for celebrating, enjoying friends and family, and capturing the childlike wonder that comes with this time of the year. Unfortunately, especially here in the United States, it also can come with a heavy sense of materialism. In our culture, no other time of the year does our individual wealth factor in so significantly. It is as if we measure our worth each season by the amount of gifts we can give.

Certainly, it is not wrong to want to give gifts, nor is it wrong to have wealth. Where it crosses the line is when we start attributing success according to it. As much as judgment and envy should not play a part in this season, the materialistic way in which we celebrate, drives those two attributes just as much as the positive ones.

As my children get bigger I struggle with how to celebrate it best. On one hand, we waited a long time to get to celebrate Christmas as parents. We only have so many of these magical years before they are too old to still have that innocent wonder that they have now. I want to relish in that and spoil them. But, then I pause and reflect on what message am I sending to them. I do not want them to equate success with the amount of gifts under the tree.

In fact, I don’t want them to define success by any measure outside of themselves.

Unfortunately, one of Webster’s definitions of “Success” is, “the fact of giving or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.” I really wish that were not the case, but I cannot deny that it is certainly an accurate definition within our culture.

In my immediate family we have several that would be labeled as a success by our society. Two doctors, two nurse practitioners, a psychologist, an engineer, a “subject matter expert” for a top 25 company, people with multiple homes, etc. Yes, many meet that exact definition that Webster’s identifies.

To me, though, all of that means little. Webster has a second definition of success. “The correct or desired result of an attempt.” This is the meaning that I will be passing along to my children. When I see all of those attributes listed above, I see success in the dreams that were fulfilled with hard work.

We can get so wrapped up in labels and wealth that we forget what real success looks like. We get jealous when others have more than we do. When we redefine success along with the second definition, we realize we no longer have to aspire to attain what others have, only what we want out of life.

Do you want to know what success looks like to me? Two women in my life went back to college after their child(ren) were grown. They taught me that it is never too late to learn or set new goals to attain. They are not a success because of their degrees, but because they had an aspiration and worked hard to achieve it. Success is looking past any barriers to a dream and fighting to achieve it.

I can tell you that my parents would not label their success by the degrees that their children have earned. Of far greater value, is the fact that each Sunday they wake up to the knowledge that we are all going to be at a church with our families worshiping. They had the goal of raising a Christian family. They worked hard and achieved it.

I only have an Associates degree. With almost all of my family having advanced degrees, it would be easy to judge that I am not nearly as successful as them, but it is not how I define myself. I wanted to be a mother. I knew I did not need an advanced degree for that. I held on to my dream, despite a very bumpy road, for six and a half years before seeing it come through. I am a success.

Success is not fame or fortune, no matter what our society preaches. It is setting a priority and living true to that dream.

Our society needs all sorts of people performing all sorts of tasks in order to make it work. Where would doctors be without all that work in supporting roles in their lives. Someone needs to execute the orders s/he gives; someone needs to farm the food s/he eats; someone needs to protect the community s/he lives in; someone even needs to address the waste that needs to be removed. Here in the USA, though, we would say that the doctor is the definition of success, but not the trash man who helps take care of the less desirable tasks needed to keep a society functioning.

We need to remove that definition.

I have no idea what my children will become when they get older. I may have a president of The United States on my hands. I may have a teacher, nurse, or preacher. Whatever it is, I want them to know they are a success for who they are, not for what they have. They are individual people with individual aspirations. As long as they stay true to themselves, they are the definition of success. Maybe it will come with wealth, power and fame, maybe not.

In seeking success outside of ourselves, we give power over to other people. We assign our personal success according to what other people have, be it fame or fortune. There will always be someone or something better. It sets our lives up for perpetual feelings of inadequacy. It can even lead down a road to where envy and strife set it.

If we decide to become okay with ourselves, and allow ourselves to feel like we are a success in our own right, we take that power back. No longer are we defining ourselves on other people’s terms.

Within each life, we have individual goals and aspirations. We have different priorities. Therefore, our lives all look different. Despite that, no one way of life is really more successful than the next as long as each is holding true to themselves.

Some people have power, some have wealth and other’s fame. For me, I have my children. I don’t need power, wealth, or fame to be okay with myself. I know I am a success because I set a goal, overcame obstacles, and achieved my dreams.

That’s the definition of success that my children will learn.

In the meantime, I will probably spoil them a little each Christmas. After all, I fought hard for this and getting to give them gifts is part of the joy of my dream! We will balance it out when they are older and the wonder disappears, but for now, I will relish in all that it is to have small children. However, they will always know that my success is not in the gifts I give to them, but in the dream that I held true to.

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