Seeking Success in All the Wrong Places

Last year, a friend asked me in all seriousness how I defined success. She confessed that she was feeling unhappy and almost obsessed by her own lack of success.

Her confession took me aback.

She is the most successful person I know. She is an entrepreneur who sold a business for seven figures. She now runs another profitable business doing work she greatly enjoys while also having the time to engage in high impact pro bono investments in the community. She is wealthy enough that she could retire tomorrow with all the comforts she could ever want.

If she wasn’t successful who was?

Then I reflected on similar conversations I have had with close friends where I have confessed to my own feelings of lack of success. They too looked at me in astonishment and told me they thought I was very successful. They pointed to my thriving lawyer coaching practice, to my enviable lifestyle working from home on Salt Spring Island, and to my happy marriage.

This morning I thought about the many lawyers and other professionals working within the legal profession and how most everyone feels that success is out of their grasp.

Then in an instant it all became clear to me.

Success isn’t static and unchanging. We don’t get there and then stop. We achieve it over and over again.

I was successful when I became a university student at McGill many (many!) years ago.

I was successful when I left a job at an international law firm in New York because I knew it was time to return to Canada.

I was successful when I passed the ten-year milestone of my coaching practice in 2014.

What I didn’t do on all those occasions is recognise the success. I didn’t pause to reflect and appreciate the success I experienced.

I did not see that success wasn’t out of my grasp, it was right there within me.

Here’s what is important to know. And I am writing this to myself as much as to you. It is important to recognise the success that has brought us to this very moment in time. Within this lies our strength and the lessons we have learned. We are wise because of the life we have lived.

The failures and hard times we have experienced along the way are how we have become who we are today. They are inextricably part of the success we experience here and now.

Denying, forgetting or belittling our success makes a poor foundation for taking it to the next level.

The old way of driving ourselves through recrimination, scolding, or a focus on lack isn’t what is needed.

Take a moment with me to reflect on your success and I will reflect on mine. On the things that are right and good. With what has been achieved. Breathe it in. It is part of you. You are successful. Breathe out appreciation for what got you here.

Let this be the basis on which we all move forward.


  1. Kristen Sivertz

    Thanks, Allison. I think the opening line of your article really underlines the key point. Success is defined. Either you define it, or you rely on someone else’s definition. At the end of the day, you have to set your own standards. That is, “standards” plural. As you say, you can set and achieve many goals, big and small, and call each and every one a success. If you set your standards too high – or let others do so – you’ll most likely run yourself into the ground.

    To quote the great and glorious RuPaul: “[Take] those cues from the universe and [apply] them without losing who you are.”