How to Define Personal Success

Defining personal success sometimes is difficult. It’s pretty easy to buy into the social, cultural, and family messages about what makes for success, but it’s a little bit more difficult to listen to ourselves to guide us towards our own version of personal success. Let me explain.

Growing up, we have many messages about how to be successful, or how not to be unsuccessful, given to us at an early age from parents, religious institutions, school, and television. It’s easy to grow up and not have to question some of these messages, especially if we’ve been given them from an early age and they been repeated over and over again. For example, our parent’s definition of personal success may have been integrated from such an early age, and we never got around to challenging or questioning those definitions of personal success. They may have, over time, developed to be very different from those things that we would identify as successful for ourselves if it was just up to us.

Personal success is not exactly what culture, society, or our parents might have us expect. Sure, there our many things that we can all agree defined personal success: finding a good job that we like, making good money, finding a great mate, developing a happy marriage, having a healthy family, and the list goes on. Those are the kind of universally accepted definitions of what it means to be successful in our culture.

But, even reaching those peaks and gaining the culturally sanctioned versions of personal success doesn’t always bring happiness. In fact, many men still deal with depression, anxiety, low self-confidence, and the like. Take Tiger Woods for example. He was the most famous and richest golfer in the world, had a beautiful wife, and seemed to define for millions of men what it means to be successful personally. And one day in November of last year, it all started to unravel. It was discovered that he had a sex addiction and had been sleeping with lots of women on the side. My sense is that Tiger, inside of himself, doesn’t feel very successful at all. He may have all of the trappings that exude personal success, from a cultural point of view. But, it may be a very different story inside of his mind.

We have to define personal success as men in a number of ways, and not just subscribed to the universal definitions of personal success given to us by our parents, our culture, media, and our peers. Personal success goes a lot deeper.

Here are some things to think about when defining personal success for yourself:

  1. What are my values? If I were to list my values, and rank them in order importance, how are my behaviors in the world representative of those values? Are my own personal values being lifted up to in my day-to-day actions? for example, if I aspire to be a good husband or father, what do I do in the day-to-day to adhere to that value? If I want to be healthy physically, and that’s my value, what do I do in the day-to-day to live that value? I think the closer you can match your own personal values to the actions that you perform in your day-to-day life, that is a mark of personal success.
  2. Try challenging some of your own ideas of personal success. Are your ideas of personal success different or the same from those that you received from growing up, from your parents, from other influential sources? are there versions of success that you are finding your life that deviate from some of those messages that were given to long-ago?
  3. How do you experience personal success on a day-to-day basis? what are those ” little victories” that you experience all the time? They may not be having sixpack abs or a six-figure salary, but they may be significant when you put your every day up to a microscope.

Men should challenge the very idea of what it means to be successful, and challenge the inner self critic that berates and defeats them while they’re striving for more success. Often times, we strive for achievement of personal success based on outside opinion, whether from peers, family members, our spouse, or the media. Learning to challenge those definitions of personal success, and learning to turn inward and define ourselves as successful in whatever way is right for us will make a difference in how we define ourselves as successful.


About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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