What might “success” actually mean, anyway? 

Some people define it by the achievement of specific goals. A particular job; a particular salary; a particular relationship; a particular general life situation. 

Some people might define it by the absence of negative feelings or sensations, particularly if they’ve been struggling with negative feelings— anxiety, depression, PTSD— for a long time. “Success” for them might mean simply feeling better. 

I happen to think the essence of “success” is finding oneself in situations where one is increasingly free to choose what one is exposed to every day. 

Where one gets to choose who one interacts with every day— as opposed to being forced to interact with people one would prefer not to. 

Where one gets to choose wha tone looks at and listens to every day— as opposed to being forced to look at and listen to things one would prefer not to. 

Where one gets to choose what one does every day— as opposed to being forced to do things that one would prefer not to. 

Where one gets to choose, finally, what one thinks about and focuses on every day— as opposed to being forced to think about and focus on things that one might prefer not to. 

When it comes down to it, I struggle to define success as anything more or less than increasing amounts of freedom of choice. As best I can tell, other definitions of success seem to hinge upon being free to choose our surroundings, situations, and behavior…and other definitions of success tend to lose their meanings if one ISN’T free to choose one’s surroundings, situations, and behavior. 

If success is, essentially, increasing opportunity and freedom to choose…then it opens up an interesting, and in my view productive, way to look at our lives in a goal-directed way. 

Specifically: how much freedom do I have, right now, in order to think what I want, focus on what I want, look at and listen to what I want, and do what I want? 

The answer isn’t zero. 

For most of us, the answer is probably something less than we’d prefer…but it’s not zero. 

Of 100% of our time, energy, and focus, we have the freedom to dedicate SOME percentage of it to what we choose. 

That percentage might be in the single digits, but it’s not zero. 

If we acknowledge that— that we do have at least SOME freedom and flexibility in what we’re able to focus on and do— then the equation of success starts to look less like an overwhelming, perplexing conundrum…and it starts to look more like a math problem. 

Specifically: what can we do, on a day by day basis, to make that percentage of freedom we DO have go up by even a tiny bit? 

Our days, our weeks, our months, our years, our lives…how can we take that resource, that gift, of whatever time we have available…and make that “freedom percentage” tick up just a little, tiny bit? 

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year? 

It will only tick upward if we take responsibility for looking for ways to make it tick upward. 

The reason I present this definition of success, and this equation of how to go about achieving it, to you in this way is because I want to make the project seem less overwhelming. 

We don’t have to figure everything out. 

We don’t have to understand the universe. 

We don’t have to perfectly control our symptomatology. 

We don’t have to make a million dollars. 

All we have to do is figure out how to make that percentage number— the percent of our resources that we are free to direct— go up, little by little. 

We can figure out ways to do that. 

That’s a project that starts in small ways. 

That’s a project that develops in small ways. 

That’s a task we are up to. 

And if we’re up to that task…success— real, measurable success— is in our grasp. 

It’s all in how we think about it. 


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