How to Know When You’re Successful

I wish someone had told me a long time ago: success doesn’t feel very successful.  I always imagined success to feel positive and radiant, like I was walking on air.  In reality, success feels like a lot of hard work.  It’s doing the same difficult thing, day-in and day-out, and doing it well.  It’s being on location for a shoot, freezing your butt off, and realizing that’s what it means to be a professional model.  Or answering emails all day and understanding, mundane as it is, that it’s an integral part of running your own business.  

In reality, success feels like a lot of hard work.

I have to constantly remind myself that success is what I did, not how I feel about it.  If I rely solely on my emotional response rather than the finished goal, then I may never feel like I’ve done what I set out to accomplish.  I may never feel successful.

Having a solid definition of success is the only way I’ve found to cope with this problem.  Then I can always concretely point to when I have completed my goal, whether I feel like I did or not.

With that said, here’s my metric for success.  It’s only two steps, and it’s deceptively simple.

1.  State precisely, in measurable terms, what you want to define as success.

2.  Go do it.  

It seems pretty straightforward, even common sense.  Have you accomplished both of those steps?  Then congratulations, you’re successful!

The application of these two rules, however, is a little more nuanced.  

I remember the first time I shot underwater; it was an incredible experience.  The location was a mansion in wine country, and the pool was an infinity edge set into the hillside.  I was working in the location of a lifetime, surrounded by beautiful scenery, beautiful models, and amazing artists.  Just doing the shoot was a success in and of itself. 

But at the time, I didn’t notice any of it.  Instead, I was worried about learning a new skillset on the job and performing it to a high standard.  I was so caught up in doing well, that I forgot that I should also enjoy accomplishing my goals.  By the end of the shoot I had learned the basics of underwater modeling—what I had set out to do—but I had stopped feeling successful. 

It was only in retrospect that I realized my mistake, and that there is often a hidden step three to success: review the fact that you’re successful. 

I personally like to use lists for this review.  I write down my definition of success from step one, and when I’ve accomplished it, I physically cross it off.  That little ritual helps cement the reality that I did indeed achieve my goals and that I should be proud. 

If I hadn’t done that ritual after my first underwater shoot, then I would have never noticed that I did have a goal, and that I completed it: I learned the basics of a new posing style.  Without my review, I would have only remembered the stress.  I certainly wouldn’t have remembered the positive details of the day.

Crossing off lists might not be exactly what works for you, but you should find some way to celebrate or at least acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.  You’ve put in so much hard work to define and achieve your goals.  You deserve to know when you’re successful at them.