Defining Success in Your Terms

Defining Success in Your Own TermsBroadcasting & Cable (B&C) magazine hosted its 4th annual Women of New York Keynotes and Cocktails event in NYC on Thursday, April 24th. I attended this event, which featured a particularly impressive lineup of women who had a lot of interesting things to say.

Moderators Melissa Grego (editor in chief, B&C) and Kelly Wallace (editor at large, CNN Digital) asked the invited speakers how they define success. Here are a few excerpts from their responses:

  • Meredith Vieira (host and executive producer, The Meredith Vieira Show): “Finding your authentic self, finding that person inside you, and then being true to who you are. Don’t let money or titles define you.”
  • Nomi Bergman (president, Bright House Networks): “Do you feel proud at the end of the day? Those are the successful days. It’s all about how you feel at the end of the day. Be true to yourself.”
  • Marjorie Kaplan (group president, TLC and Animal Planet): “Work/life balance is a myth. You only have one life, and it’s a seesaw: you run from one side of the seesaw to the other, and maybe once a year you have 30 seconds of balance. Maybe.”
  • Mindy Borman (executive producer, The Dr. Oz Show): “Do the best you can every day, and if something isn’t successful, learn from it and move on.”
  • Kelly Wallace (panel host and editor in chief, CNN Digital): “Honesty defines success.”

Marjorie Kaplan shared the best advice she’s ever received (which came from her mother): “Women live a very long time, so just start. Do something even if you’re not sure it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life. If you love it, you’ll fully engage and commit to being the best. If you can’t or don’t commit, then do something else until you find something that you can commit to.”

Kaplan’s advice really resonated with me as someone who has changed careers a couple of times. It helps to explain that urge inside me to find out “What’s next?” As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Martina Navratilova (former tennis star and now analyst on Tennis Channel) closed the event with fantastic advice for defining and achieving success:

  • Do the best you can every time. Win doing it your way; don’t listen to the naysayers.
  • Stay in the moment. Don’t dwell on why you lost the last point—get over it immediately and focus on the next point.
  • Do your homework, then trust that you’ve done your homework. Don’t overthink it. If you’re done your homework, let your instinct take over and guide you.

I also liked Navratilova’s advice for dealing with burnout: “Get back to basics. Take a step back and evaluate why you wanted to do this in the first place. If you find that you’re still excited and love what you do, then get back to the basics of what you brought you joy in the first place.”

How time changes the definition of success

Like many people, when I was in my 20s my definition of success involved money, power, and fame. Two decades later, though, life experiences have made me question the ultimate value of those goals and change that definition.

I learned one particularly hard lesson after I left a senior executive position at the Oxygen Network. I was shocked by how many people who I thought were my good friends, colleagues, and mentors there stopped returning my calls or no longer any interest in getting together with me once I left. As my so-called friends ditched me, I realized that having power and fame didn’t necessarily mean that those people actually cared about me or even liked me. Rather, many of them were just interested in something that I had been in a position to give them.

These days, power and fame are no longer significant in my quest for success. And although money is still an important factor, the amount of money that defines success for me has certainly changed. Sure, if I won millions in the lottery, I would graciously smile as I accepted that giant cardboard check. J But somewhere along the line, I’ve let go of the need to define success by the amount of “stuff” I have. Instead I measure it by my ability to do the things that I want to do, all of which include my family and friends—and that’s what makes this definition of success so special for me.

How do you define success?

You cannot achieve success if you haven’t defined what it means to you. And everyone defines success differently. So what’s on your list of success factors?

Figuring that out—figuring out what really matters to you—can help you focus your daily efforts and go to sleep each night knowing that you’re working toward goals that are important to you. Here are a few ideas to get you started on creating your own definition of success:

  • Being happy. How often do you let overwhelmingly negative thoughts dictate your mood? The average person’s lifespan is 27,375 days. Why not set a goal to see how many of them can be good days—even if things aren’t perfect in your life?
  • Being true to yourself. How many of us are living lives that our parents or someone else thought we should pursue—but that we don’t necessarily want for ourselves? Take a leap (or a short hop, if you need to make a gradual shift) in the direction of doing what you want. Why not start today with being true to yourself and true to what you want to do with your time on this earth?
  • Doing the best you can. How much credit do you give yourself for actually doing your best each and every day? By definition, your “best” is the top of your abilities. Why not focus on putting forth your best effort instead of on what you aren’t able to accomplish?
  • Spending quality time with family and friends. How much time do you devote to being a good friend, daughter, son, sister, brother, mom, or dad? Your work has you for a minimum of 8 hours a day (i.e., the time that you’re being paid for your services). How about setting boundaries so that when you’re in the same room with a friend or family member, you’re actually focused on being with him or her instead of checking e-mail or Facebook every couple of minutes? Why not set the electronics aside for even an hour a day and instead use that time to truly engage with friends and family?

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to define success. Defining success is a personal matter—the result is different for everyone. If “money, fame, and power” are on your list, then go for it! Just make sure that you’ve defined success in a manner that will eventually make you happy. (And once you’ve come up with your own definition, take a peek at this blog post, which has some great suggestions for achieving that success.)

As Gandhi put it: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Let’s go make some harmony!

How do you define success? I would love to hear from you in the comments section here or on the Val Grubb & Associates Facebook page.


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