The meaning of success


“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will be become the person you believe you were meant to be.” George Sheehan

Success… Is it a place we arrive at, or is it made up of all the things we learn during our journey?

Is it a hard race to the finish line, or is it being able to smell the flowers along the way?

Does it mean working to acquire a lot of money and things, or does it mean having more leisure time to enjoy life?

I thought about that question the other day after someone asked me if I felt like I had “arrived” in my work and creative endeavors. I wondered…were they referring to monetary income, or professional satisfaction, or simply a sense of personal happiness in knowing I’m doing what I enjoy?

Success is one of those hard-to-pinpoint concepts, differing ever so slightly from person to person. All you need to do is Google “success” and you’ll find quotes that vary as wildly as the authors themselves.

  • “There is no point at which you can say, “Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.” ~ Carrie Fisher
  • “Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.” ~ Walter Cronkite
  • “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” ~ Woody Allen
  • “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” ~ Marianne Williamson
  • “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” ~ Gen. George Patton

A recent article in Fear.less magazine featured Julia Cameron, an award-winning author of 21 fiction and non-fiction books. She has inspired millions of readers through her beautiful work, such as “The Artist’s Way.”  Despite all this, she said there is always a lingering question. She said, “Will I be good enough? is always at the back of my mind. Even with my successes now, I’ve been wondering if I’ll be good enough ever since I was 18.”

Like Ms. Cameron, I’ve sometimes had trouble recognizing my own successes. Oh, but how easy it is to point out failures and kick myself when I’ve had a setback! Why are we humans so quick to find our own faults and so slow to pat ourselves on the back?

Most of my life I thought “success” was defined as the next big achievement. I sought the next job, hoped for the next raise, and went looking to buy the next shiny object. Success was always that “thing” out there to go after. No wonder I shared Ms. Cameron’s lingering feeling of  “never being good enough.”

In the past few years I’ve come to realize that success is not a singular destination but a journey to be experienced. I think of it like steps on a stair case. Each success, large or small, moves me to a new step, a new level, precisely where I need to be at that moment. And even though each stair step is separate and has its own place, it does not stand alone. Rather, all the steps together are the integral pieces which make up the larger structure.

And so, whatever step I am at today is today’s success, a place to be appreciated, a place that is honorable in its own right. Today’s success is a result of all the other little successes (and setbacks) I’ve had in my past, even if they don’t appear to be connected. Who knew that taking a job I intensely disliked 16 years ago would move me into the exact right position to get the job that I loved with all my heart? And that beloved job led to more and more life adventures, ultimately creating a stream of events that today allow me to follow my passion.

One step forward, one step back. Smell the flowers and enjoy what you learn.  Develop your vision, values and soul.

That to me feels like success.

“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” ~ Christopher Lasch

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4 Responses

  1. Beautiful post! It’s too funny, because sometimes I bemoan the fact that I spent thousands earning an advanced degree in Slavic Linguistics, but then I remember that if I hadn’t done that, I may never have become a freelance writer. All the steps I took, even if they seemed to wander off the path, led me to this career I enjoy.

  2. Patti Murphy says:

    Mom, thank you! As Ron said, such a lovely message. I’m very blessed to have such a great family.

  3. Ron Gardner says:

    Nicely done Patti and such a lovely message from your Mother must be a wonderful reward. My Mom passed away when I was a young boy and I often wonder what she would’ve said to me at various points in my life. 🙂

  4. Betty Murphy says:

    To my daughter Patti. It has been and interesting and inspiring journey to share with you your travels to success. You have always been very much loved. Your trek through school, climbing the career ladder and your romances have allowed us, your parents to add admiration to our love for you. We enjoyed the trip. Loved this piece. Mom