1. I’m also the kind of person who self-deprecates at the sign of any compliment. I’m not built to accept them. But, I also know that I have a lot of things in my life that most people would count as making them successful. The one most recently that always throws me off when people congratulate me on is my job. It’s a permanent position in a union environment, with a full pension and health benefits. Basically, the mother load for people my age. When people congratulate me and tell me how lucky I am, I’m always like ‘I guess?’

    It’s not that I am not grateful for my job – because I absolutely am. But, I find it difficult to define ‘success’ by the 9-5 thing that I likely won’t have forever.

    • That’s a really important point, Britt. Often times, we tie success to our work. And for a lot of people, we are pushing past using that as the hallmark of who we are.

  2. May I add to one of the ways I think you’re a bad-ass success? Your grocery budget. I mean, it gets me every time. Total success in keeping those expenses crazy low! 🙂

    I don’t stop and celebrate success either. I love to set goals and achieve them, but then it’s “the next thing,” “the next thing,” etc.

    I have to stop a lot and tell myself, “you have enough. You don’t need more of anything to be happy.” It’s so true, too, but I definitely don’t practice gratitude enough. Healthy kids, happy marriage, we’re moving closer to family, I get to write and blog, great friends, and on and on. Thanks for the reminder to take a minute and reflect on the success I already have. 🙂

    • Oh my, Laurie! I would definitely hold you up as an example of success. All you’ve done for your family, your important and unconventional career path, your blog…so many things!

      And thank you for the reminder about our money wins. One more week to go, but I’m almost positive we’ll be a few cents under $200 this month for groceries!

  3. To me success means growth… That is what we are all striving for, it’s not about perfection, it’s about being better than we were yesterday.

    That’s why some people can never get enough of it, it can become almost addicting, as you see yourself doing things you never dreamed you would do.

    It is important to always take the time to reflect on how far you come, and appreciate everything you have been able to accomplish.

    Success is a very subjective metric. Love the blog! Cheers!

    • It is subjective. Maybe that is why we have a hard time seeing it in ourselves? If it isn’t reflected in others’ versions of success, maybe that makes it harder to identify? Thanks for giving me so much to think about!

  4. “I just always assumed that when I’d stumbled upon success, I’d know it.” This! I haven’t thought a lot about what success looks like to me, and I kinda assumed that it’d just hit me. But I’ve been slightly down because life isn’t really moving, and I noticed I hadn’t looked at my goals or decided what success would look like. In college, I was very driven and had something to work for: Grades. Postgrad life isn’t as clear-cut, so I stopped dreaming. I totally understand the sentiment of “I’ll know when I know.” and I’m trying to combat that and fight to achieve something. To have a goal.

    • I feel as if we are cut from a similar cloth. I, too, used to use grades as a marker for success. How easy and clear cut, right? I am definitely working on a combination of getting better at setting goals and practicing gratitude. Showing kindness toward myself, too!

  5. Jody

    This is actually something I’ve been paying attention to in my own life in the past few months. I’m a perfectionist. My father is the king of the land of perfectionism, so I guess it would follow that I lean strongly in that direction. Success? Always juuuuust out of reach. Never good enough.

    I credit my interest in personal finance over the past 1.5 years for bringing this to my attention. I couldn’t wrap my head around the Ultimate End Game as being the only success. Was that early retirement? How early? Or was it a specific number? But that’s all years away, does that mean I have no successes to look forward to for years?

    Nope, sorry. My big a-ha moment was my goal of increasing my net worth by $40k in 12 months. I didn’t make it – but I did it in 13 months and I decided that was still a darned good success. Changed my outlook.

  6. FIRE in the hole

    As a lifelong midwesterner, I can totally relate to the compliment deflection! So very accurate. We hosted a party the other day for about 40 friends, and everyone said what a good time they had. That’s my success, because we spent a lot of time cleaning/prepping for the event. I was exhausted by the end (I’m a classic introvert so all that socializing was so tiring, but so worth it). To me, success is having balance in life, and having a great social safety net of friends and family. We probably spent over $200 on food and alcohol, but the return on investment is enormous. 🙂

    Also, our house is almost paid off – hopefully by the end of the year! That will be amazing, even though it’s only 7 years early. But hey, paying it off in 23 is better than the full 30.

    • Oh, I agree! It makes me cringe whenever people suggest that we cut back on things like that. I look at get togethers like that as an opportunity to show my gratitude to the people who mean so much to me. You’re right! That sounds like a smashing success (and a lot of work!).

  7. Jeff - ButterRiceDDS

    Success is very tough to accept. I had a very tough time in my first year of dental school. I was only getting graded satisfactory/acceptable for my work. I was really stressful to see other classmates get rated exceptional on their projects. I should’ve accepted that passing was success. Instead it turned into anxiety as I thought I could/should be an orthodontist (not Mike Meru USC dental school debt) or something better and these simple pre-clinical projects were beneath me. I had to be reminded by the school psychiatrist that I was already successful by gaining admission to dental school. An associate dean had to remind me to think of 3 good things that happened everyday. I was a mess upstairs. I couldn’t tell what it was: self-inflicted pressure to succeed at the highest level, try to outwork everyone, or whatever. I took a whole year to finally figure out that I was part of hundred or so other people who picked from a pool of a couple thousand to at least talk to admission face to face. Then amongst a couple hundred, one of 65 to get in. Second year was difficult but much easier when I finally realized to a degree what success was.

    FI – that’s a new struggle every day.

    • Wow, Jeff! I am certain that a high-pressure environment like that magnifies the stress of finding success (or even defining it!) beyond the scope of what I can imagine. I’m glad you started to see your own success. And you’re right. Money success is a different kind of beast, though I do sometimes fear we are creating an equally stressful environment for other FI-seekers…this time unnecessarily. It’s not like we are taking one another’s spots!

  8. “You can find success without being perfect.

    You can find success without being finished.”

    I think all too much we define success as the finished product without realizing all the little victories along the way.

  9. Great post Penny!

    I often think that success is found more in the journey than in the destination. It is certainly great to have the “views” on a blog (as an example), but if that is your definition of “success” you will never be satisfied. There will always be bigger blogs or sites that get more and more views.

    For me, success is so much more about the journey and lessons learned through those experiences.

    I certainly don’t have all the answers here and probably need to do some success definition exercises as well, but I don’t want to negate the importance of the journey in my definition of success.

    • You are exactly right. I don’t care about blog views (obviously). I mean, I am grateful for each and every reader and commenter, but I can’t and won’t compete with anyone over my writing. For me, this blog is a record of my journey. And if I use your definition, I could and should use it more to celebrate my successes along the way. Thanks for the perspective!

      • I hope you didn’t think I was specifically saying that you care about blog views. That wasn’t my intention, but using that as an example.

        I hope I didn’t come off that way, but certainly I think journey is key to the definition of success.

  10. Great article and blog. A timely reminder that everyone in life has different opportunities and when it comes to finances it’s not a race. Slow, steady and skillful investing over time will mean you can build up some financial independence alongside a sense of security and satisfaction. I don’t think acquiring material goods gives much of a lasting sense of success anyway – but having freedom and being able to constructively help others certainly does.

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