What is Success – and is it Healthy?

It occurred to me on a recent climbing trip that I may not have the healthiest relationship with success. You see, I view success as reaching the absolute endpoint. But I do not view the process as a stepping stone to success. By this, I mean that when I am focused on a big-picture goal I get down on myself when it doesn’t come easily or quickly.


To put it simply, I don’t allow myself to celebrate or feel accomplishment and pride until I reach my end goal, even though I am accomplishing smaller goals as I work through the process. Such a narrow view of success denies a lot of potential positivity and risks frustration when things don’t happen quickly.  


I work a lot with other highly motivated individuals and if this is a trap I’m falling into, it’s likely others are as well. So, let’s break down success, and how to have a healthier relationship with it. 



Defining Success



Success: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Accomplishment: something that has been achieved successfully


First off one should note that success and accomplishment are intertwined. As the definition of each contains the other. Secondly, when you read these two words, note the way they make you feel. Just seeing these words sparks joy in me. It’s easy to see how we can become focused on this.


Yet as of late, that focus has been making me feel anything but sparks of joy and warmth. Instead, I’ve found myself in a negative cycle. One that involves frustration and negative self-talk. This is because I haven’t accomplished my big goals (yet). Have I made progress towards them – absolutely. However, I have not viewed this progress as positive because my main goals haven’t been accomplished.  



We Define Our Own Success



What’s so funny is that we create the definition of success and accomplishment. It’s literally whatever we want it to be. This means it is up to us to decide when to feel successful based on how we judge our own accomplishments. It all comes down to what we choose to believe. Of course, there are times when external influence may try to define what success looks like. In these cases, we can choose to accept those external forces or societal norms – or not.  We still get to decide. 


It all comes down to our tendencies. I have always to saved my gold stars and rewards for ‘BIG’ accomplishments. Lately, this has been extremely clear in my rock-climbing. 



My Success Journey

female rock climber in Mexico



Over the past 6 months, I’ve become motivated to climb harder grades. I’ve had a few years of hiatus where life, work, and home ownership have taken all my energy, but now I find myself motivated to push myself physically. It has felt great, and terrible. I’ve been inspired, and oh so frustrated.


A single pitch of hard rock climbing isn’t attainable first go. In fact, falling off repeatedly is the norm. I don’t know how to move my body right on the first go and have to hang and try all sorts of options. It takes me multiple tries, often over multiple days to climb the route ‘successfully’. I struggle with negative feelings through this process. 


Why? Because even if I get closer each day by falling less or nailing a sequence of movements, I don’t view these incremental steps as accomplishments. Only sending the whole route will do! It starts to feel so tortuous, especially because I realize I’m the one creating the torture.  


Is any of this ringing true for you? Noticing this for me has made me realize that I am experiencing this in my climbing as well as other aspects of my life.



Success Recommendations

rock climber in the happy boulders



Here are some recommendations that I have found helpful when dealing with accomplishing goals: 


  • Take any big goals you have and break them down into small steps to attain those goals

  • Celebrate each action towards each one of those steps

  • Feel grateful for the opportunity to chase goals

  • Start a gratitude journal practice 

  • Consider falling or failing as learning (learning what not to do is still progress)

  • When the above isn’t working ask a trusted friend to help reframe things


To some extent, we are all driven to accomplishment and success. With the above outline, you are sure to bring more gratitude and joy back to your success journey. Even if you already have a healthy relationship with success, these strategies can still enhance and accelerate that journey.  When something is fun and rewarding, we tend to pour more time and energy into it.