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Therapists Spill: My Definition of Success

Therapists Spill: My Definition of SuccessIn the fall, clinician Joyce Marter and her husband hosted their friends for a dinner party at their Chicago home. Among the couples — all in their 40s with school-aged kids — conversation turned to the adventures of parenting and the tricky stage of adolescence.

This sparked a dialogue about how they gauge success. Marter’s knee-jerk reaction was to say that success excludes dicey circumstances such as driving under the influence or dropping out of school.

“Thankfully, I quickly regrouped from this position of fear-based and judgmental thinking and realized I do not truly believe any of those experiences or other life challenges mean somebody has failed or is not successful,” she said.

Hardships make us human and give us the opportunity to grow, she said. None of us is perfect or remains unscathed in life.

Marter’s guests offered myriad definitions, everything from education to prosperity to resiliency to health to happiness.

So what is success? What does being a success look like? Below, Marter and other clinicians spill their views on success.

According to Marter, also owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance, success is authenticity and mindfulness.

Success is to live life openly, authentically, and lovingly in a way that is aligned with the highest good of self and others.

Furthermore, when one is mindfully rooted in the present moment and engaged in relationships and work that promote a loving growth of human consciousness, one is joyous and prosperous. And so, this is my wish for myself, my children and for all humankind.

Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and postpartum mental health expert, summarized success in three words: faith, love and joy.

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To be successful in my work means that I am able to touch others’ lives, to help them know they are not alone, and to impart some bit of joy or wisdom that will leave them better than before.

To be successful in my family means to love — to listen, to say I’m sorry when I’m wrong, to encourage, uplift, and to always strive to give the best of my time, talents, and heart.

To be successful as a human being means to continually examine myself, my motives, and my works; to connect spiritually, listen to what my Creator has in mind for me, and trust the process — to be open to learning and improving, and willing to share myself and serve gladly.

I guess overall, for me, success = faith, love, and joy (my three-word motto) — striving to do and be my personal best in work, family, and as a human being, forgiving myself when I’m not, picking myself back up, and diligently pressing forward again.

For Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression, success lies in the everyday, in the journey from setting a goal to realizing it.

For me, success is when I set a realistic goal, enjoy the journey as it unfolds and dwell in the momentary satisfaction when it all comes together. From cooking a new recipe, to learning a new yoga pose or taking a challenge that stretches my comfort zone, it’s the entire experience that offers me a sense of well-being. Success can be found in little things and big things. The key is to enjoy the ride once you set out on your material or existential destination.

Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the blog “In Therapy,” also prefers to focus on the flight, instead of the landing.

I try (really, really try!) to view life as a journey rather than a series of goals to be attained. I always feel less stressed and better able to focus on today when I’m in that mindset. With that framework, I try to view success as something to which I aspire rather than a goal with a finish line.

For me, success is achieving a healthy balance between the most important areas of my life. These include family and social relationships, occupational pursuits, hobbies, diet, exercise, rest, my spiritual life, and the continued pursuit of self-understanding.

I don’t think I’ve achieved this balance yet, as I only seem to maintain focus on one or two areas at a time. I may never find a way to keep all these plates spinning at once, but I will try for the rest of my life!

Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., a psychotherapist, author and teacher, described success as a triumph over trials and fear.

Success is overcoming challenges internal and external that at one time felt impossible or overbearing but with hard work and discipline I was able to rise above the fear or anxiety.

For most people success is a shifting concept, which transforms over time. It’s been for John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. Today, his view includes being of service to others and being satisfied with his life.

My definition of success has shifted greatly over the years. I used to think I had to accomplish something that others deemed “great” in order to consider myself successful.

Today, I find success in happiness, kindness, and helpfulness. I find success in loving, connected, available relationships, in my family and elsewhere in my life, including my relationship with myself.

In order to feel fully successful, I feel I need to continue to find new ways to reach out to others and give of myself. Finally, I don’t think I could ever feel successful without a degree of happiness, contentment and humor.

Success has many faces. The definition just depends on who you ask. And that’s the magic of success: You get to figure out what it looks like for you.

Therapists Spill: My Definition of Success

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Therapists Spill: My Definition of Success. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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