Redefining success

I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately, and it seems to be popping up everywhere - blogs I read, newsletters I get, to conversation topics on Twitter. Everywhere I look, something is reminding me that I’m aiming for success and asking me what my version of success is.

Except I don’t have one.

I have no idea what success means to me, except for maybe a bar that I’ll never reach. And maybe that’s why I’ve never sat down and decided what a successful career means to be, because it just seems like something I could never possibly have. I don’t even know what success feels like, except for what it feels like to not have it. (Or at least what it feels like to think I haven’t reached it.)

So what if I just gave it up? Not the art, but the notion of success? What if, instead of trying to reach for this bar that I don’t even believe that I’ll reach, what if I just ditched the bar?

Could that work? What if I was working towards nothing? What if there was no chance to even feel like a failure, if the whole paradigm of failure vs success wasn’t even there anymore?

What if my focus changed completely? Mind you, that would mean actually having a focus to begin with, not something I have very often. I often forget the big picture, of why I’m doing what I do – to share my art, to move people’s souls.

What if that was my only parameter for success? Did I get up today, and share my art, and stir someone’s soul? Check. Okay, we’re a success.

Or with no vision of success, would I just drift? Would I lose all focus entirely, and wander through life, accomplishing nothing, finishing little, and just generally end up rather miserable.

Or would the lack of defined goals set me free, and loosen me up from the chains of failure when I don’t meet them?

I’ve got a whole lotta questions, and not so many answers.

Subconscious definitions

However I decide to settle my conflict with success, there is one thing I have to do – uncover my subconscious definitions of success that are making me cringe when I think about it.

Example – I think that success means being extraordinarily wealthy and famous and since I’m not that, I’m a failure. The funny thing is, I don’t care about that stuff. It’s not why I became an artist. But I feel like I need to get those things to prove to society that I’m not a failure.

There’s that inferiority complex again. Hi I’m Sarah the Sick Girl and I need to prove to you all that I’m not completely useless.

And while I can see this pattern showing up, I still haven’t shifted it yet. Although maybe all of my explorations around my definition of success is a sign of shifting, space and movement. Let’s just say it feels like I’m loosening the knots that this pattern has tied around me.

If there was no society to prove myself to and money wasn’t a problem, what would success look like to me?

And there it is – clarity. I would be sharing my work with lots and lots of people. I would have tons of collectors. Not because I wanted the money but because my work just moved that many people and that many people fell in love with it. No ego, just a spreading of beauty. I would barely be able to keep art on the walls because my collectors, my Right People would just fall in love and snatch them up. And I’d be happy – deliriously happy.

I guess that’s my vision of success. It feels clear, and shining, like a diamond, compared to the mud of my current definition. It makes my inner artist jump up and down and clap her hands, and my soul sings.

This is a goal, a vision I can work towards. It also has no sting of failure – as long as I’m painting and showing my work, it’s all just steps towards creating a world where my art is loved and shared.

And that is a beautiful place.


  1. says

    You write beautifully, how refreshing! I was starting to worry about you at the beginning, you paint quite a word picture as well. I feel very strongly in life that the conclusion you’ve come to is correct. If success is only money, than happiness teeters on being unsuccessful by today’s standards. Instead, who I turn out to be and am becoming are far more important, and outweighing that still is whether or not I decide to positively impact. Kudos!
    .-= Susan Hamilton´s last blog ..What Does Zero To Sixty REALLY Mean? =-.

  2. says

    I’ve also had a hard time defining success. I know I’m “supposed” to do it, but I’ve never been able to. I know generally what I’d like to accomplish in my life, but if I fall short that’s OK too.

    I do have to set myself very concrete, specific near-term goals or else I’d never get anything done. So maybe the answer is to have goals but not worry too much about success? A life lived well is success enough for me.
    .-= Barbara J Carter´s last blog ..New little-bitty painting “Dots 12 (Open Grid)” =-.