A Tool to Measure Success

Somebody asked me recently what my professional goals are.

I used to be incredibly ambitious.  Now, not so much.  Part of the reason is that, as I age, I realize the things I was ambitious for–money, prestige, fame–don’t retain the same shimmer after too long.   The problem with ambition is that it keeps my focus on some future manifestation. 

I will know I am successful when. . . 

I ask myself, and my students, to find a career that they love so much they’d do it for free.   Today I will add:  love it so much you’d do it for free and for absolutely no recognition. You love it so much you could do it. . . anonymously.  You’ll measure success, in this case, by a completely different standard. 


It’s hard to talk about these things when we need to earn a good living.  We need to pay the bills, provide for our children, and stock the refrigerator.   We often don’t have the luxury of thinking about the larger questions about our work when we have to pay the electric bill today.  But sometimes it’s good to ask ourselves what motivates us to try so hard all the time.  Beyond the paycheck, what are we really doing? 

With money and prestige out of the picture, what would motivate someone to succeed in a particular line of work?  And how in the world would they define success?    As I think about living with flair, and in particular, working with flair, I wonder what to be ambitious for.  Is it to serve others well, to advance knowledge in my particular field, to love every coworker, to build community in that workplace, to think about a mission to create beauty, order, or healing somewhere?  Is it to fight for injustice or to awaken spirituality?  Is it to provide for my family?  It is to work with excellence, to the best of my ability?  Or is it because I must do it because of a calling–because I’m made to do it–regardless of how my gifts are received or if they do anything?

These things are good and right. 

Another friend asked me what the goal of my blogging adventures are.  A book?  For the first time in a long time, I was able to say that the goal was just to write, everyday, and record special moments that made the day great.  The project is its own reward.   I’m ambitious for living intentionally enough to find joy in the common thing.

When I measure success by a different tool, I’m suddenly free to do what I’m supposed to do–what I’m made to do–and not imprisoned by any other standard.

Living with flair means being ambitious for the right things– for the sorts of things that can’t be measured by dollar signs or followers.

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0 Responses

  1. Interesting post. Personally, I think there is no tool to measure success. For me, success is subjective. Success differs from one person to the next. What may seem unsuccessful to you, may be successful to someone else. I'm quoting someone(I forgot his name) but I read he said, “There is no finish line.” If there is no finish line, how can you measure success? In life, you can only have small and big victories, and small and big failures. Life is a challenge but that shouldn't stop us from enjoying it.

  2. “Doing your best is taking action because you love it, not because you expect reward.”

    “If we like what we do, if we always do our best, then we are really enjoying life. We are having fun, we don't get bored, we don't have frustrations.”

    -Don Ruiz in “The Four Agreements”

    You have mastered this practice!