Defining Success

How do you define success? Is it based upon what your parents, teachers, coaches, or even society has instilled in you? Or, do you march to the beat of your own drum? Even though it is helpful to consider how others define it, the quality of your life is ultimately dependent upon how you define success and how closely you live a life in alignment with that definition.


For me, I have always known what would make me happy.. I have always had a yearning to be free, to make my own decisions, and live life on my own terms, rather than have an organization or individual dictate my next move all of the time. However, I was also always told that this would not make me  “successful” by society’s or my parents’ terms. As such, I was encouraged to travel a path which was already well traveled, one easily recognized by others, and one which would include money, status, and material things.

I tried very hard to adopt this way of life, to fit in. Yet, it was incredibly uncomfortable. I did the “normal” things…went to college, obtained my master’s, and am still working toward my PhD while also working a full time “traditional” job. I should say here that I obtain a bachelor of science degree in Biology: Pre-Medicine. I was always told that I “should be a doctor” when I “grew up.” So, I spent 4 years working toward that goal, set in motion by my teachers and parents, and was miserable most of the time. I completed it, because I started it. I am stubborn and not a quitter. It wasn’t until I was in Italy, studying abroad during my senior year of my undergraduate studies, that I had the courage to tell myself, and my parents, that I did not wish to go to medical school as they had hoped. I had already taken the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), twice actually. But, even when attempting to study for this test, I found myself drawn to actual court hearings on TV instead.  You can say that I wasn’t disciplined or focused, and you would be correct. At that moment, my priority and interest were not on studying for the MCAT, or even a future in medicine. I was just doing it because “that is what you are supposed to do.”


I decided to follow my interests and pursue a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice-Forensic Psychology. I LOVED this program. Every class had my full attention and I enjoyed every assignment I was given. It FELT right. I graduated with a 4.0 and also received an honor of distinction for my work during the program.

I soon began working as a Psychiatric Care Technician for a large State University Hospital. I loved this job: the fast-pace, the up-close and personal interactions with those who are mentally ill, learning how they think and helping them to lead a higher quality of life. It was all great, …for about a year-and-a-half, until walking the same worn path around that small unit every day began to feel suffocating. I loved meeting new people and talking with those who thought differently than I did. But, I felt that I had outgrown this job. So, after I received my master’s I began a Google search for “psychology jobs.” I ended up working in a prison in Texas, as mentioned in the article “The Journey Begins.” And, once that job became unbearable, I transferred to a prison in Virginia, where I continue to work on mental health and cognitive behavioral therapy with sex offenders.

Fast forward.. despite each job being rewarding in it’s own way, I have yet again “outgrown,” become bored with, the position I am in. I despise the phrase “career path” because that suggests that you must continue along the same route, from start to finish, and changes in personality and experiences along the way have no room or place. This is not the way life works. We change with every experience, no matter whether it is good or bad, big or small, domestic or foreign, it impacts the way we view life and our place in this world.

embrace new beginnings

I have realized that I need to define success for myself, and to take steps which get me closer to achieving it. Success isn’t static, it changes as we change. As such, we must take the time to really evaluate where we are along the journey to success at various points throughout our life.

This can seem like a daunting task: defining success. It doesn’t have to be! Just ask yourself a few simple questions and you can begin to formulate what it means to you. If you find that after asking yourself these questions, your decisions are leading you toward your own success, perhaps it is time to reconsider where you put your time and energy.. ask yourself “why” you are doing what you are doing, if it isn’t helping you to get where you want to be.

Please see the attached handout for ways to begin defining success in a personalized fashion! Enjoy! Please feel free to share this content and also leave any comments or questions you may have.




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