What is success?

How we define success, individually, dictates much of how we interface with the world. How do you define success? More importantly, why do you define success that way?

Is my blog having success? I haven’t written a post in a while. Not because I haven’t been writing, I journal every morning. It’s because I don’t know why I’m writing. I started writing, publicly, in early 2017, to vent. I was going through a challenging time professionally, and I believed that I had a lot to offer in my area of domain expertise: conflict.

What I learned after months of writing about conflict is that people don’t want to read about conflict. I was defining success by arbitrary metrics: page views, re-whatever’s, email responses, and feedback from friends. I measured success in those ways because that’s what I read is the best practice for measuring success in writing blogs.

So, when I found that my readership wasn’t growing, I decided to do a guest post on a website more popular than mine is (dumblittleman.com). I didn’t do this because I particularly care about what people write on Dumb Little Man, but because I read that guest posting on websites with a higher Alexa Rating would create more readership on my site.

It worked! Hooray. More people were reading my blog about conflict. But no one was commenting, very few people were reaching out to me, and none of my posts were engaging a larger audience. Why? Well, I have no idea. I’m not the best writer in the world, but I’m a good conversational writer. I’m also an academic expert in conflict, so my authority is pretty high. Without any empirical evidence, I unilaterally decided that people simply didn’t want to read about conflict.

I pivoted my content and started writing about personal development, self-help, or whatever buzz word you want to use to describe being a better version of yourself. Marvelous! Like clockwork, I increased my readership, re-stuff, and one-on-one conversations about my content by 400%.

I enjoy writing about personal development, and it was incredibly easy, as I simply wrote about what I was personally working on for myself at that time. My most popular post, Turn off your notifications, came out when I turned off my own notifications.

But then I stopped writing online. Why? Because I didn’t know why I was defining success by re-things, page views, and other relatively meaningless metrics that all the bloggers out there believe is a measure of success.

Having more Twitter followers, LinkedIn endorsements, Facebook likes, and Instagram hearts doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t increase my wealth. It doesn’t even grow my network. Maybe I’m doing a lot wrong, which is very likely, but even if I “knew” how to correctly position my blog in the market to maximize followers, likes, and eventually sponsorships, affiliate marketing opportunities, and paid guest posts, what’s the point?

How I define success

After a few months, great months, wandering, both physically (traveling) and mentally (sensory deprivation therapy), I know what success is for my blog (for now).

At the beginning, just one year ago, I wanted to build an empire. I’m a “conflict coach” (no one knows what that means) who writes and podcasts regularly about conflict, offers one-on-one and team training, and has courses available online to purchase. I purchased duane.coach, starting writing an e-book, and started outlines of a curriculum. It was going to be my greatest achievement!

No one exists in the conflict coaching space, at least not in the way I would do it. I had no competition, unlimited time and energy, and the charisma and bravado to incite people to wanting, no needing, conflict coaching. Except I didn’t.

I didn’t because I didn’t really want to. Trust me, I love conflict. I’m passionate about conflict resolution beyond many other passions. But is it something that I really want to do? Is it the BEST way that I can help people?

And that question became the question to answer. How can I best help people? So, after a few months of thinking on this, I’ve decided to help people by getting to know people and writing on topics that address some of their underlying issues. Instead of writing for a mass audience that might exist, I’m writing to one person who I can easily identify.

For the foreseeable future, each blog post will address a specific issue that someone I personally know is dealing with. I’ll spend the time and energy conducting an appropriate amount of research to help them address their problems. And I’ll do the same for me. If I’m struggling with something, I’ll just write a journal article and publish it online.

I define success as helping one person overcome, fight through, solve, resolve, or beat down an issue, problem, or struggle. That’s it. One person. And by reframing my writing in this way, I know I’ll be successful. I’ll succeed knowing that I helped some real, tangible person with a real issue. That’s what I set out to do in 2017, I just didn’t know it then. I do now.

How do you define success?

After reading how I will define success, for now, as everything in this life is temporary, how will you define success? Will it be by how much money you make this year? How much your body fat percentage is? How fast you run a marathon? By having a baby? Getting a puppy?

The nice thing about success is that it’s incredibly personal. We can read about how everyone else defines success, but who gives a shit about them? How you define success is up to you, and only you need to know. It’s what brings you joy. For me, I wasn’t getting joy by not knowing whether I was having a positive impact on someone through my writing and podcasting. Joy, to me, is to see the impact.

If your joy is a $150,000 salary, that’s great! If your joy is to watch every single movie that’s on Netflix, that’s great too! Instead of judging what brings you joy or trying to tell you how you should be healthy (both physically and mentally), I implore you to find what brings you joy and do that. I’m not writing this article for you, I’m writing this article, today, for me.

But, I do want you to think deeply about how you define success. Think on it, journal, tell your friends, your loved ones, and do it. After spending a few months living your dream, reflect and see if your dream remains the same. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Then, and here’s the important point, iterate. Maybe making $150,000 sounded great in January, but by April, the hours are killing you. The ethical dilemmas are running rampant. So, change your mind. Make less and find success. The beauty in personally defining success is that you can change your mind when you want and no one will notice or care.

If you care to share, write what success is to you this year in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.