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.

Even the Experts Doubt Themselves

I think that every creative professional is, at some level, a victim of self-doubt.  But there’s always been a little part of me that believed if I made it to some measurable level of success, then I would stop doubting myself.  (“If I were a NY Times bestselling author, then I would never doubt my writing again” is a personal favorite).  It’s as if I believe that once I reach a certain externally-validated metric, I will have “arrived”—though arrived at what, I can’t tell you.  Happiness? Success? Fulfillment?   

It’s not just me, either.  I can’t tell you how many women I’ve heard say, “If I were a professional model like you, then I’d never feel ugly again.”  Some people would dismiss this as the media’s unrealistic portrayals of feminine beauty and how they negatively impact our psychology.  However, I’m intrigued by the fact that their comments sound just like my “If I were a NY Times Bestselling author” spiel.  


Here’s a fact: I am a full-time, professional model.  Here’s another fact: I still constantly face self-doubt about my appearance. 

And here’s yet another fact: every other model I’ve talked to feels the exact same way.  We all have a list of body parts that we think are hideous.  For me, it’s my breasts—I just can’t stand them.  One model hates that part of her lower lip isn’t pigmented, making her lips look thinner.  For another model, it’s her ankles (yes, her ankles, to the point of considering ankle bone implants).  All of these instances of self-doubt are completely irrational.  Those same body parts are often coveted by other models, who wish they had big breasts, tiny ankles, and delicate facial features. 

So here’s the last fact: no matter who you are, if you reach the level of external validation that you’re looking for, you will come up with an excuse that tells you why it doesn’t matter.  So many models have told me that they don’t feel attractive.  They know that they are on an intellectual level—they make their living because thousands of other people around the world find them to be.  But no matter how many other people tell them, they still don’t feel it.  

Experts at the top of their respective field still doubt themselves about the very skills and attributes that allow them to be so successful.

This isn’t meant to be a body-image issue post (though if it helps with that, great!).  The point here is that experts at the top of their respective field still doubt themselves about the very skills and attributes that allow them to be so successful.  This is not unique to the modeling industry.  I’ve seen it personally in dance, writing, music, computer science, and business.  If you look into any field, I guarantee you’ll find the same problem.  

Be careful though: some self-doubt IS valid, so don’t dismiss it out of hand.  It’s just important to be realistic and accurate in your perception of it.  If it starts with “If I were  ____” and ends with “then I would never doubt myself again,” or “then I would be happy,” or “then I would be successful,” it’s flat-out wrong.  These statements will never give you an accurate assessment of yourself, or an accurate answer to get the results that you want.  Throw them out.  You’ll have that much more time and effort to put into accomplishing your goals.