3 min read

Rethinking Success to Embrace What Makes Me Happy

How my old beliefs about success keep me in the closet — and what I've learned.
My dog, Scooby, and me sitting in a chair.
Scooby is happy to take part in a meeting, so long as I'm there.

For years, I used to think that success was a milestone event.

I believed that success was necessarily associated with achieving a significant income goal, or a major life goal. Success always felt unattainable because I didn’t realize that my belief about what success meant was dependent upon social norms and expectations. To be successful requires hard work, long hours, and giving up various pleasures in life.

Finally, succeeding meant public scrutiny and criticism, or if you were lucky, accolades.

Looking back, I remember publishing an article in 2017 about my fear of success that challenged my vulnerability: “Why I’m Not Good Enough: My Dirty Gay Secret.”

Why I’m Not Good Enough: My Dirty Gay Secret - Darren Stehle
There’s a lot of gay shame that runs as an undercurrent in my life. This morning I watched a video by coach Dax Moy. He was talking about the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is how you feel about what you did or didn’t do. Shame is how you feel about who you are […]

This was at a time when I was writing a lot about my gay identity and coaching insights about coming out. The more I wrote, and the more people started to read my work (and later, listen to my podcast), the more public and vulnerable I became. A part of me wanted to go back into the writing closet to avoid having to endure criticism of my ideas.

I hadn't thought about this fear for some time until I recently until I started a process with my coach of digging deep into my beliefs about various areas of my life.

The idea that success played such a large part in the public domain always bothered me.

My fear of success meant that more people would see me for who I was and that I would be open to criticism and prejudice — often because I was unafraid to take a stand for what I believed to be true and important.

Having suffered several challenges as a creative solopreneur, I felt unsuccessful because I had put in the time, effort, and money, yet I wasn’t getting the same results as “everybody else.” When you add those two beliefs together, the resulting belief about success is not encouraging.

The process my coach showed me wasn’t a few simple questions and answers. Instead, I worked through a week-long exercise to get crystal clear about what success means to me, how it supports or hurts me, and where I learned or adopted those beliefs. From that in-depth investigation, I created a new and improved belief that speaks to who I am and supports my potential and well-being.

What I Now Believe About Success

I believe that success is the accomplishment of what I commit to, be that a specific and measurable goal, or a qualitative practice.

Success is a natural and ongoing progress of creating my dream life.

What does this new belief look like in practice?

When I’m embodying this belief, I am practicing my commitments as a process, taking each commitment one step at a time. This allows me to make progress on my goals and dreams while supporting my self-acceptance, freedom, and peace of mind. Now, success is no longer about the size or duration of the result.

Success isn’t the opposite of failure or a measure of how hard I worked or suffered.

It’s also — perhaps most importantly — no longer a measurement of what makes life great.

Success can be small or large, but it is simply about completing a journey of fruition.

I’m curious to know, what’s your definition of success, or what are your beliefs about success? Have you struggled with the social definitions of success, and what happened?