by Brian Bacon, Director, Engagement Services
Published May 12, 2022

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines SUCCESS as – “The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals or the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.” Over the course of the last 24 months the stress of COVID-19, the economy, fear of illness, losing a job, work from home (or not being able to work from home), childcare, home schooling and the Great Resignation have led to a significant increase in mental health issues.  Stress as a contributor to mental health issues is an equal opportunity employer as it effects all races, genders, nationalities, and social groups without exception.  One stressor that was with us before COVID (and will continue to persist long after COVID-19 is resolved and we are back to “normal”), is an individual’s desire and societal requirement to be “SUCCESSFUL.” 

Success has become a measure of an individual’s self-worth and their value to society. If an individual is not successful (by the prevailing norms) they have no value and their self-worth and self-esteem bottom out. An interesting dynamic of “Success,” or “Being Successful,” is that it is a double-edged sword. Success can be both a significant negative when not achieved AND a major positive when it is achieved.  A perceived lack of success can cause a substantial increase in stress levels and mental health issues (as those who “fail” to succeed are “losers”) BUT it can also establish new standards of performance as the “bar” has been set higher and the expectation is for more stellar accomplishments.  Identifying just how successful an individual actually is (which most people do not fully realize), results in lowering one’s levels of both stress and potential mental health issues.  

Identifying if one is successful or not, begins with your clear definition of success.  Being successful, like many things, is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the eye and PERCEPTION of the individual.  One must individually define what his or her vision of success is before it can ever be achieved.  Is success defined by the individual or is it defined and driven by societies’ (or others) definition of success?  Is success owning the largest McMansion on the block or the corner office at work?  Is success measured by how high you have climbed the corporate ladder at how young an age? Is success making the world a better place for those around you or is it making it your own personal kingdom?  Ultimately, is success something that YOU wish to do, have or accomplish or something that you are trying to achieve to make someone else happy?  

More realistically, success can be measured as well by more intangible things.  Is success more appropriately measured by accomplishing something you never imagined you could, finding a solution to a problem no one else thought possible, having the courage to take a risk and potentially learn from failing, realizing you really are artistic and can paint (or any other artistic endeavor), having real friends and being a real friend, or changing someone’s life? While intangible measures of success are “fuzzier” and harder to measure, they are often the ones that mean the most to individuals seeking self-worth and value. 

Make a list of what, to you, are your successes and things that you are proud of that you have accomplished. Think of everything you have done that would fall into the categories you earlier identified as “successes” - no matter where they might fall within society’s standards or personal categories you have been forced to accept over time.  Ask someone close to you that you trust and believe to make a list of what they think your true successes have been. You will probably be surprised that the second list is more accurate and probably longer than your own. Many times, things that people see as being “nothing special” very special to someone else.

Review the list you have generated as if you were an outsider and did not know who accomplished the successes listed.  Put on your impartiality hat and take a really hard look at the list from the perspective of “if this was someone else, should they consider themselves successful?”  If it was not you, you were looking at, how successful would you feel the “other person” was?  Viewed from this perspective, people are very surprised at how successful they really are – the significant things they have accomplished in their lives and how they have positively impacted others often have become a part of them that is often minimized and set on the back burner. Internalizing one’s successes can provide a boost in self-worth and self-satisfaction with an equal reduction in at least one driver of possible mental health issues.

Measuring success is an inside out, not an outside in, process. True success comes from within – how an individual feels about themselves rather than what society or others might want them to feel. Truly successful people do not need to have their name up in lights to feel successful (even though it is nice once in a while).  Success is a personal perception. The Employers’ Association has the tools to help you feel more successful than you might think you are. Please contact us at 616-698-1167 or