Something that I truly love is being asked a good question.  That’s probably why I love being a life coach!  What sweetens the pot for me on this is when the question not only inspires me, but everyone who hears it.  Time stands still for me when people are moved by the question, start generating their answers, and share them with other trusted friends.  


Such a scene happened in my life last weekend when my husband and I enjoyed dinner out with dear friends, a couple we have known for 15 years.  They are the type of friends you dream to have in your life--people who you look up to in many ways but also people who are approachable, inspiring, caring, and FUN. Like us, they have been married over 20 years, have kids, and have experienced many joys, challenges, successes, and failures.  


The beauty and depth of the friendship stems from the fact that all these ups and downs are welcome in our time together.  When situations are difficult, we offer each other acceptance, encouragement, counsel, and support.  And in times of joy, we celebrate! Sometimes, our dinner conversations leave me laughing so hard that my ab muscles actually hurt afterwards, and others, like the other night, leave me thinking and pondering for days.  Because we respect and care for each other, the simplest of questions sometimes produce the deepest reflection.


One question that “stuck” with me is the following:


What is your definition of success?


In taking some time recently to answer this question for myself, I realized how my answer at 18 years of age was completely different than it is now at 45 with a husband of 22 years, two kids, and aging parents.  Before kids, my answer almost exclusively focused on my work and education.  Now that I have children (teenagers), my answer always includes their healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development.  My success also entails championing my husband in life.  With my health challenge of lymphoma, I seek to live as healthfully and authentically as possible.  I am devoting more time to family and friendships and being a mentor to and having mentors for myself.   And finally, success in my work outside the home includes using my talents and skills in service to others and my God.  


The beauty of the question is that the answer often reveals our core values, faith, and purpose.  As a life coach, this is ultimately what I work with clients to pursue. Life is inherently more meaningful when we understand how our daily actions link to our purpose.


Below are some self-coaching questions to help you explore YOUR personal definition of success.  Take a few moments to think about who you think is successful, what activities contribute to and detract from your success, how your success helps others, and how you can support others in their journeys to be successful. 


Self-Coaching Activity


1.  What is your definition of success?  (You may want to consider thinking of this broadly and in specific areas like family, career, health, relationships, spirituality, etc.)


2.    When you think of “successful,” who is the first person that comes to your mind and why?


3.    When you look at how you spend your time, what specific activities support you in feeling “successful” about your life?  What activities detract from you feeling successful?


4.    What is one thing you want to do differently to increase your sense of feeling successful?


5.    How does your success positively contribute to the well-being of others?


6.     If you are married and/or in a family, consider asking others these questions and sharing your responses with them.  How can you support each other in your endeavors?


My goal in writing bloposts is to push myself to continue to learn and apply psychology and well-being principles in my own life and to share them with others.  You’ve probably heard and read some articles or interviews with people on what contributes to success.  One resource is a TED Talk (only 3 minutes) by Richard St. John that points to “8 secrets of success” that he uncovered as a result of being asked by a teenager on a plane what she needed to do to make something of her life.  She simply asked, “What leads to success?”


St. John spent 10 years interviewing and studying the words of over 500 successful people in various walks of life (Jeff Bezos, Julia Child, Bill Gates, Quincy Jones, Michael Jordan, George Lucas, Nicole Kidman, Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, etc.).  He discovered eight main factors that lead to success:  passion, work, improve, focus, push, serve, ideas, and persist.  As you read about each of them below, consider which of the eight you have, and which may need some work.  They could be the keys you desire to help you unlock more of your potential and be more successful in the ways you identified in the above coaching exercise. 1,2


1.  PASSION   


“Passion is the oxygen of the soul.”


This should not be surprising.  It’s hard to imagine anyone being successful without a deep and driving interest.  Passion exists because you love something so intensely that you are compelled to take risks and push yourself to the limits.  An important point here is that many “underachievers” become “superachievers” once they connect with their passion.  Examples of such people include Bill Gates (founder, Microsoft), John Grisham (author), Albert Einstein (scientist), and Larry King (TV host).  People that succeed follow their heart and passion, not their wallets.  Often, however, the money follows when people spend time doing what they love to do.


About what are you passionate?


 2.  WORK


“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing.” 



We usually notice someone who is successful only AFTER they have worked tirelessly at their craft.  We see the person, their achievements, their poise, and their greatness. We ignore their history of past mistakes or setbacks.  Behind all of the accolades and glory are countless hours of practice, sacrifice, losses and failures.  Greatness and success rarely happen overnight.  In fact, failure is part of the package.  As noted by Michael Jordan (basketball superstar), “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games… I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”2 (p. 184)   


Are you working at your goals as best as you can?



 3.  IMPROVE  (Practice, Practice, Practice)  


“Practice isn’t the thing you do once and you’re good. 

 It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” 

~Malcom Gladwell


To be successful, you have to be GOOD at something.  You can’t just wish to be successful; you have to practice at it and improve.  Many young people take music lessons or play sports as children.  Most of them do not become star athletes or famous musicians.  It’s the rare bird who keeps at it and introduces something new and exciting to the world.  You have to know how to improve and become proficient at something. 


How can you improve at something you enjoy doing?



 4.  FOCUS


“Starve your distractions; feed your focus”


Successful people learn where to invest and focus their energy.  Rather than focusing on everything that comes their way, they learn to spend their time on their “Wildly Important Goal.”3Individuals and teams with 5-10 goals often fail.  When they narrow it down to one or two big accomplishments, the mission is clearer. As you know, the sun’s scattered rays are often not strong enough to ignite a fire, but when those rays are focused through a magnifying glass, they can burn a piece of paper in a matter of seconds.  As noted by Brendan Buchard, “Increase the outputs that matter!”4


What is ONE thing you really want to achieve?



5.     PUSH 


“I attribute my success to this- I never gave or took any excuse.”

~Florence Nightingale


Everyone experiences resistance, fear, self-doubt, and limitations.  What separates a successful person from a less successful person is that she pushes through those barriers and continues to learn and grow.  


How can I push myself to reach my goal?



6.     SERVE 


“The purpose of human life is to serve, and 

to show compassion and the will to help others.”  

~Albert Schweitzer


Successful people often find their passion from serving others, championing a cause, or doing their part to make the world a better place.  Whatever you do, be a good role model.  Think about how your actions have the power to serve, help, and often inspire others. Do your best not to complain about the effort involved in your journey to be more personally successful. Remember, many of us have been served in our lives by countless other people.  To keep society healthy, we must make it part of our daily habit to pay that forward.


How are you serving others something of value?



7.     IDEAS 


“I find out what the world needs.  

Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

~Thomas Edison


To be successful, you have to have captivating ideas.  Others must be intrigued and passionate about your idea to make it their work as well. To be more creative, exercise your listening muscle, be more observant, adopt a “curiosity” mindset, ask more questions, and make connections with others.  


How can you be genuinely more curious about an existing problem? 
About other people?



8.     PERSIST


“Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.”  

~Carol Dweck, PhD Psychologist


Many people emphasize “grit” these days.  As noted by Angela Duckworth, grit represents a combination of #1 passion and #8 persistence over long-term goals.5Some people can’t hang on over the long haul.  Success takes time, consistency, effort and energy.  Inevitably, when you persist, you have to work through CRAP (Criticism, Rejection, A**holes, & Pressure).Your goal or passion must be greater than the resistance you will face.  When you have true passion, the resistance will hurt, but it will fail to overcome you.  


Do you need to renew your passion in an area to be more persistent?


In closing, we all need to invest in things that matter—in people and things that have value.  YOUR definition of success is unique to you.  There is no straight line or short-cut to success and each of the 8 secrets (Passion, Work, Improve, Focus, Push, Serve, Ideas, Persist) requires dedication and consistency.  Each can be developed and implemented at any time in our lives.  At any moment, we can choose to be better and rise again after a setback.  Value yourself enough to be successful!  



Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4


Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.

Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.

Don’t wish for less challenges, wish for more wisdom.


~Jim Rohn


Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

~Winston Churchill



 1.  St. John, Richard.  (TED 2005).  8 Secrets of Success.

 2.   St. John, Richard.  (2010).  The 8 traits successful people have in common: 8 to be great.    Train of Thought Arts.

3.  McChesney, C. & Covey, S. (2012).  The 4 disciplines of execution.  New York, NY:  Free Press.

4.  Burchard, B.  (2017).  High performance habits:  How extraordinary people become that way.  Hay House.

5.  Duckworth, A. (2016).  Grit:  The power of passion and perseverance.  New York, NY: Scribner.

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