8 Ways to Be a Success


Photo credit: Arriane Serafico

When I Google “success,” I get these definitions: 1) the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, 2) the attainment of popularity or profit, and 3) a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.

While #1 and the first part of #3 don’t sound so bad, I have a beef with success being tied up with popularity and money in #2 and #3.

It’s my perception that society’s definition of success is more generally tied to these latter definitions. I’m a big proponent of changing these definitions.This post is my first stab at what I think success should look like in an ideal world. I’ve included some resources that have been helpful, life changing in some cases, to me in becoming a successful person.

  1. Be kind. You never know someone’s story. Even though someone might treat you poorly, you have the choice to be kind in response. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you ever have to see them again…) It’s not always easy, but a little more kindness would be a wonderful thing in our world.
  2. Make efforts to be happy. There is a lot of research that suggests we can, indeed, create our own happiness. The How of Happiness is one book that lays out some of this research and also offers tools that can help us create our own happiness. Life is too short to be anything else, so let’s all try to create happiness!
  3. Be grateful. This one ties back into #2, but I feel it is important enough to warrant its own space. If we’d like to be grumpy, we can concentrate on all of the negatives in the world. We can gossip and gripe. But if we count our blessings, we start to change the story. Thich Nhat Hanh presents the idea of this mindfulness beautifully in Peace Is Every Step. It’s a lovely reminder of being grateful for the ground beneath our feet and the air above us every step we take.
  4. Make efforts to be vulnerable. There is also research that suggests vulnerability is part of a fulfilling, authentic life. Daring Greatly presents Brené Brown‘s research on how opening up and being vulnerable can help us lead happier, more fulfilling and authentic lives. She also gives us tools to start on this path. This book has been a game changer for me on the journey to a happier life.
  5. Ask for help. This goes along with #4, but again, I think it is important enough to be its own entry. We are not meant to be islands, and our loved ones can’t read our minds. Whether it’s the collaboration that goes along with writing a dissertation or asking for a hug, we need to learn to ask for help when we need it. Amanda Palmer tells her story of how making herself vulnerable and learning to ask for help has made all of the difference in her rock star life in The Art of Asking. It’s such a beautiful book, and integrating its lessons into my life has been worthwhile.
  6. Challenge yourself! This will come in different forms for different people. Our brothers and sisters suffering from depression may challenge themselves just by getting out of bed. For me, it’s many of the things I blog about: adventures, creating, writing, school, dating… It could be as simple as reading a new book! Whatever it is for you, move outside of your comfort zone. Keep growing as a person and never stop.
  7. Just breathe. Yoga and meditation both involve slowing down and being mindful of your breath, and we all know both are good for you (here and here)! But while just sitting and breathing is part of why these two practices are great, it’s only part of the story. For me, it’s about being present and mindful. While practicing yoga or meditation, you are focused on the here and now. You let go of the past, you aren’t worried about the future. You let the present flow over you and cleanse you. You don’t need to be a practitioner of yoga or meditation to take some time and just breathe. If you do, the sense of calm you generate will follow you throughout all of the parts of your life.
  8. Let go. Let go of what you think success is supposed to look like. I’m getting my Ph.D. in biology. When I first started my program, success looked like graduating and getting a job at a college or university. Then I started thinking I wanted to teach high school. I felt guilty. I felt like I was selling myself short or settling. I was afraid people would look down on me for being over-educated. But the reality was, I didn’t want to get the college job anymore. I finally had to realize that I’m no less successful just because I changed my mind about what I want to do with my life. Your story may be that your parents wanted you to go into a specific career, and you want to do something else. Or perhaps your family wants you to get married, or have children, and you don’t want those things for yourself. There are so many examples, but the long and short of it is you aren’t a failure! If you are doing something that feeds your soul, you are a success. Keep doing it!

I’ll summarize the key points of my definition of success by saying: Be nice, do things that feed your soul, and don’t let others define you (or let you define yourself too rigidly). I think these are some of the key components of success.

What do you think? Any additions? Changes? Substitutions?

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