How to Redefine Success

Accomplishments are only one piece of it

We don’t start and stop living based solely on completing an accomplishment. These are milestones that are a reflection of your hard work and dedication, but you are so much more than just the things you do.

Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

How do you define success? Have you ever thought about what this means and how you have come to this meaning? Is it something that was handed to you, or that you were made to believe? Is it something you have defined for yourself?

Common Definitions

Many people consider titles, salary, material items, or a sense of power and control to be things that define success. However, do these things really define success? This type of definition tends to lead to a hedonistic treadmill, meaning a person will have a need for more. They will always feel that they need to do more or to be more. As a result, they will be creating stress and a sense of emptiness, loneliness, and dissatisfaction. Overall, the notion that no matter what they do or have, it will never be enough.

Success, as defined in the dictionary, is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Take a moment to really think about that. At first glance, I would argue that most people do perceive success as an accomplishing an aim, or goal. However, we forget about the purpose part. Purpose is having meaning for which something exists. With so many people considering only half of the definition, it isn’t surprising to see an increase in stress and discontentment.

Expectations and fear

It seems a primary source of this stress is a result of living in ways that do not align with an individual’s sense of purpose and core values. For instance, the systems and relationships that people engage in might create a disconnect with what holds meaning and purpose for them. When people believe that success relates only to their external accomplishments, it also impacts their behaviors. For example, these beliefs are typically things we have learned to expect. Therefore, if we say no to them, we fear we will be passed over, judged, considered less than, and excluded from future opportunities.

By accepting these expectations we allow fear to rule our lives. Instead, I invite you to be mindful about the things you say “yes” to. Whenever possible, aim to make choices that do align with your passion, values, and purpose. Those things are investments of your time and energy, which are some of the most valuable things you have to offer.

Comparison Trap

Another issue that can lead to discontent is being caught up in the comparison trap. This creates false beliefs, especially with social media and our continual access to other people’s “best lives”. As a result, it impacts how we believe others are living and we compare it to our actual daily lives. This can cause us to believe we do not measure up to our peers. I can’t emphasize this enough. It isn’t fair to compare your entire life, worth, and value based on the snapshot of someone else’s. This is not an accurate measure of success and can lead to increased focus on external, material factors, as well as negative self-talk and poor self-esteem.


So how do we create meaningful changes in these areas? Here are a few invitations and recommendations:

Explore and examine

Examine and define your own meaning around success, purpose, and values. Spend time getting to know what these are for you. Are there areas in which you have the ability to make changes and create more harmony? Are there negative values you have learned over time that you would like to change? Explore and examine what you are afraid of. Fear traps people in cycles, systems, and beliefs that limit them.

Create boundaries

Create boundaries that align with your values and purpose. For example, if family is a main priority for you, then say no to things that will keep you at work longer, or set a boundary for yourself about checking on work things when you are with family. Boundaries are not about selfishness, they are about aligning and making a priority of the things that support balance, wellbeing, and valuing self. When we take care of these areas we have more energy, positivity, and are more productive in the time we do spend in other areas. In other words, when we are fulfilled, this cup overflows into other areas.

Meaningful Connections

Whether you are creating connections with others, with practices, or within yourself, make them meaningful. This can be with friends, family, being in nature, spirituality, mindfulness, exercise, or self-care. Meaningful connections are those that are real and leave you feeling energized or well-rested.

Avoid pseudo connections, or connections that we seek out in order to feel good. We often get caught up in things like binge watching shows or social media. Have you ever sat down to watch one video only to emerge hours later? I get it – and yes I’ve been there. We may feel connected with these things or people, but often times this becomes a replacement for the energy we don’t feel we can expend or don’t have access to. So proceed with caution, because these can be energy and time vampires.

Again, these are often a misalignment for the things we are actually needing and wanting. This is not to say that connection with things that aren’t healthy for you is better alternative. So, evaluate these areas and see with who and where you are spending your time. See where there is flexibility and take steps to make the desired changes.

Stay Present

Having goals and aiming to complete accomplishments is important. However, people are often more focused on the end result rather than being present in the journey. There’s a belief that this thing, whatever it is, will somehow change everything. We will be what we are meant to be at last, everything will be different as soon as I do blank. Often times, however, the celebratory phase is short lived and underwhelming. We find ourselves restless and searching for the next thing that will give permission to be satisfied, successful, or content. I beg you to be present in your own journey!

We don’t start and stop living based solely on completing an accomplishment. These are milestones that are a reflection of your hard work and dedication, but you are so much more than just the things you do. You have value regardless, so don’t forget to live in the space in-between, as this is the majority of the life you have. We often equate success with our value and worth. So, as a parting sentiment I invite you to simply remember this:

Think about a little baby, just born. Do they need to do anything to earn or be deserving of love? Do they need to complete some accomplishment to earn their value or worth? Of course not. Now, I want you to remember that this applies to you too. It’s only been through experiences and learning that we come to believe differently. You are worthy, regardless of the things you do. Stop hustling for your worth. Re-examine and explore your meaning of success. You may find what you have been looking for has been within you all along. You simply haven’t been paying attention to it, and what we pay attention to grows.

If speaking with a mental health professional would be helpful to you, reach out. We are happy to help you on your journey. Additionally, if you are interested in our self-guided courses, visit

Jessica was a featured guest on a special edition podcast to discuss this topic. Listen here.

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist.
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Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist.

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