what do you think of when you think success?This week was back-to-school night for my kids.  Another year of me wandering the halls trying to find classrooms to hear teachers talk about their plans for the year.

Inevitably every teacher I met talked about success- how to help your child succeed in their class; what it means to successfully complete a project; or how to help your kid change course when they seem to be headed away from academic success.


All this talk about “success” got me thinking… what does it really mean to be succeed?


Sure there are some clear cut standards of success at school.  Grades and awards seem to clearly define who’s doing a good job.  But as anyone who’s left high school knows, that’s not really an accurate measure of life success.  In your professional life salaries and promotions may replace grades and accolades but for most of adults, these are not enough to genuinely feel success.  Far too often I talk to people who have all the outward signs of a successful life- a nice car, a big house, a seemingly happy family, a good paying job- and yet there is a nagging feeling of inadequacy and sometimes even failure.


That got me thinking about how I believe in defining success.  As a writer and therapist, I’ve come to appreciate commitment to the process, be it writing a new article or working through a therapeutic issue, as the true measure of success.


It is a success when a client who has been struggling with abuse finally feels safe enough to discuss it in session.


It is a success when a couple is able to finally put into words the hurt or anger that has been eating away at their relationship.


It is a success when we can take a child with academic issues and finally uncover the learning disabilities that are holding them back.


These are moments that are rarely filled with joy and yet there is no denying that they are successes.  They are opportunities to change a situation or in some cases just alter one’s perception of a situation and that is ultimately the goal of therapy and coaching.


Often when we  look for our successes we look for tangible goals or external rewards and praise.  At work you may feel success when  you are given a promotion or move on to a job with a big new salary.  At school our children find success in grades and accolades from teachers or peers.  And even in my own life outside of therapy I can get caught up looking for external validation for my success whether that means having a new article published or having our practice recognized in the community.


But that’s not where real success lies; and it is at those times that I remind myself of the words I often share with my clients…


Success is in the process not the final destination.


It is in the small steps, the everyday victories that bring us closer to the people we love or help us to recover from the challenges of life that we find our real triumphs.  In fact the act of engaging in some kind of personal growth process- be it therapy, coaching, a self-help book or class-  is in itself a success because it means you have taken a courageous first step toward healing a relationship or living your life differently.


Each time you try a new skill or approach a problem with a new perspective you have succeeded in taking action to make your life a little better.    Each of these small steps add up until before you know it you have transformed yourself, your relationships, and your life.