Redefining success

About two months ago, I participated in a course in Acumen Academy called The Path of Moral Leadership. In this course, I learned many concepts that should have felt like common sense. However, in the daily struggle of life, those ideas get lost under our need to pay our bills, to take care of our relationships, and under the unexpected events that show up in our lives.

Of all the concepts we talked about in the course, there is one that has been helping me get myself out of the rut of inactivity and dispair. Jacqueline Novogratz in her new book Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World talks about the concept of Redefining Success and asks the participants in the course to write a letter to yourself.

This letter is becoming my salvation in the days where the sun doesn’t bring warmth and the dark threatens to make it look like there is no point in trying. I thought I would share the letter with you, hoping that it will help you think what is your definition of success. Have you ever stopped to think about it?

Dear me,

I am aware that your current definition of success is about writing more to earn more. Let’s be honest here. The scientific papers, although something you are passionate about, help you hold onto your job as a scientist. And, despite your love of writing fiction, you still think about how much it would help you to earn money from that side activity. However, I know that, deep down, you don’t care about becoming a millionaire or famous. I know your end goal isn’t the money itself but to earn enough so that you feel secure in the ever-changing scary economy of your country. There is no shame in wanting that. Isn’t wanting to have security one of our basic human needs?

I also know you care about helping other people change the story they tell themselves, that you hope you can achieve that through your books and short stories. I know you care about the future of your world, that by studying it and spreading the knowledge, you hope that people understand the importance of taking care of our home. I know you care about your students, because you want them to develop the skills they need to succeed in the world. That is your true meaning. So, stop falling into the trap that success is money, fame, or just having all your projects completed in less than a month.

Success is the light coming into your students’ eyes when they’ve finally understand that concept they were having a hard time grasping. Success is knowing you helped them realize that if they could do this one difficult task, then maybe they can conquer other complex situations, if they just give it a try. Success is having a girl dare to do more, because she was inspired by your actions, your stories, or both.

Staying true to your meaning will help you be proud of yourself, always. And even if some days life interrupts, and you can’t finish that story or send that paper in a day, or two, or ten, you are still making change.

Change happens when you write just one more paragraph in your latest scientific paper or book, each time you run an experiment, each time you teach a student, and each time you lead by example. Even if you try all those things and you still fail, learning from that mistake, getting up, and trying again means that you’re still being successful. Don’t give up on your meaning.

Life will lead you to unexpected places if you let yourself experience what it has to offer, but always remember, you are here to learn to be better – not perfect – and to help others through your chosen task of storytelling. The medium may change, but the meaning remains at its core.

Trust that you will have to work hard, even on the days when you feel like staying in bed, but at the end of your days, you’ll have succeeded just because you kept trying. Forgive yourself, then, the days when progress seems to stop. Inside of you, your brain is still processing, still trying to figure things out. Perhaps physically you can’t see it, but you’re still breaking ground. The speed may be less than a snail’s, but sometimes that is stronger than an explosion.

Your rewards will come, sooner or later. They’ll come in the form of a student finding joy, in a neighbour daring to try something new, in your community starting to take action to make the world better.

Life is not a race. This is a journey to be savoured, both on the good and bad days. Savour life, work and play. And keep trying. You’ll be surprised at the end.

Remember, I love you, especially for your defects. They make you unique, as much as your virtues do.



“No matter who you are, the world offers you a thousand opportunities for deeper success. Daily, you might encounter moments to teach the person in front of you as if she herself could change the world, to listen with the reverence that expands the soul of another, to help someone who cannot help himself. At the end of your life, I hope the world says that you cared, that you showed up with your whole self, and that you couldn’t have tried harder. I hope they say you helped those who had been left out; that you renewed yourself, living with a sense of curiosity and wonder; learning, changing, and growing till you took your last breath.

In the meantime, we’ve got a world to change.”

— Excerpt from Manifesto for a Moral Revolution by Jacqueline Novogratz

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Published by Vanesa L. Perillo

Finding the balance between fear and courage* *Inspired by Cara E. Yar Khan

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