Success…How Do You Know You Succeeded? Pause and Reflect

A problem with success…sometimes, you just can’t tell you’ve done it.

You can’t see the picture when you are in the frame.

Les Brown

Lately I’ve been spilling pixels nattering on about success and how to achieve it. One open question is, “How do you know you’ve achieved your goal? How do you know you have succeeded?”

For some goals, success is easy to define, and easy to quantify.

  • I want to lose 25 lbs
  • I want to bench press my weight
  • I want to run a 6 minute mile

Other goals…maybe not so much

  • I want to get in shape
  • I want to get stronger
  • I want to be a better writer

For each of these the goal is nebulous, hard to define and quantify. However, for the first two, the problem is not the goal, it’s the framing of the goal. “I want to get in shape” vs “I want to run 3 miles in 18 minutes.” “I want to get stronger” vs “I want to bench press my weight.”

Some goals can easily have a metric attached to them, and I strongly recommend doing this as much as possible.

If your goal can be measured, you can easily tell if you have succeeded.

With other goals, this isn’t possible. How do you measure being “a better writer?” I submit that you really can’t. Take two authors; Herman Melville and Jane Austen. Each

  • Is a towering figure in Western literature.
  • Is studied at all school levels.
  • Has been adapted to film, multiple times
  • Is beloved by their fans

And, from my perspective, one of them is engaging, fun, relaxing and a joy to read and the other is turgid, unreadable dreck. Which then is better? How do you measure that?

Simple, you don’t. So if your goal is unquantifiable, how do you know if you’ve succeeded?


And here we return to Les Brown, and my disagreement with him. Maybe you can’t see yourself (at least as others see you), but you can pause and reflect. You can take the time to ask yourself if you are achieving your nebulous goal.

When you’ve embarked on a new path, when you’ve set yourself a new goal, when you’re slugging away, day after day, to achieve that goal and yet you have no metric to tell if you’ve achieved it, pause and reflect.

Look back at where you were, look at where you are and ask yourself, “Am I doing it? Am I getting there?”

I think maybe I am.

How about you?