What it Really Means to be Successful



At some point in life—likely during the middle school years—we “smart girls” stop passionately talking about what we want to be when we grow up, and we start focusing on how to catch the attention of the boys, gain approval from our teachers, and win acceptance from the cool kids. This obsession with external validation continues throughout high school and then into college, where we continue to balance puppy love pining, social jockeying, and academic grinding. Then around senior year of college, we start to think about life in the real world (or in my case, how we can put off the real world a little bit longer by going to graduate school). By then, many of us have long stowed away our dreams of taking over the world while doing what we love and have replaced our ambitions with the vague but persistent notion that we must be above all else “successful.”

As an admissions consultant and self-help writer, I have worked with and counseled hundreds of young people hungrily chasing an elusive idea of success. I myself have been that young person and still am in many ways. However, an experience I had one Saturday afternoon opened my eyes to the true meaning of success. It helped me realize that success isn’t a title bestowed upon you from the outside; it’s a personal journey that only you can define.


Success is mastering something that matters to you.

Before that weekend, I had no idea what midcentury rosewood furniture was or that people paid thousands of dollars for it even when used. Even after that experience, I knew I would most likely go back to my old habit of furnishing my place with hand-me-downs and Ikea pieces. Midcentury rosewood furniture just doesn’t matter to me.

But it mattered to the rosewood man and his customers around the world. To the benefit of himself, his family, and his customers, he had mastered the art of preserving and selling rosewood. His craft was his art. There was no doubt in my mind that he was successful.

While rosewood isn’t my thing, I gain clarity each and every day on what I want to do with my life. I aim to master the art of teaching and inspiring myself and others through words and ideas, especially through sharing my own experiences and insights. That’s why I love writing, coaching, and reading personal development books. Gaining clarity in my definition of success has helped me focus on my goals and given meaning to many activities that, to outsiders, could seem like hobbies. Blogging and social media marketing aren’t just fun ways for me to be creative; they are exercises in mastery. Doing these things consistently and learning how to improve moves me closer to my goal of mastering the art of influence and inspiration.

Whether you want to master the art of parenting, skiing, painting, sales, hairdressing, or luscious living, take the time to think about what matters most to you. If you dedicate the time and effort to truly mastering something meaningful to you, you will inevitably be successful. Even if it isn’t your full-time job, the payoff comes in the form of knowing that you didn’t squander your talents on mediocre effort. The payoff is in knowing you gave your best to something and, in turn, enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing there is something in this world to which you dedicated your heart and soul.

In what way have you had more success than you realized?



1 Comment
  1. One way I discovered that I had more success than I realize is me now thinking about how close I am to attaining my Associate Degree. I’m not there yet, but I can smell my diploma.

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Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.