measuring stick of success

A client called me recently, in a tremendous amount of pain. She’s going through a hard time in her life and she was on social media (yep, we talked about how that’s not a great combo) and she saw someone post something about how other people are less likely to want to be around you, if they can tell that you’re in conflict with yourself.

She, my beautiful and incredible client, is in conflict with herself.*

Reading that social media post, she felt despair at the idea that in addition to the pain she was experiencing, she was possibly repelling other people who see that she is rough and messy and not holding things together so well.

While the person posting might have intended to offer a rallying cry for people to release inner conflicts, the inclusion of the part about being less appealing to other people created the same sort of fear that magazine covers inspire: if you don’t measure up, you’ll be alone.

“I just want to be successful in life,” my client said.

So I asked her, “Would you know that you were successful in life, if you weren’t in conflict with yourself?”

To practice courage and move through challenges, you’ve got to examine the beliefs that underpin everything that you think, say, or do. One of the hugest belief systems that I invite people to explore is how they define “success.”

Is it…

  • Successful people don’t feel conflict within themselves?
  • Successful people have a lot of money or thriving careers doing what they love?
  • Successful people are in families where everyone gets along?
  • Successful people have lots of friends they can trust and get invited to all of the parties?


My client paused at this question of how she would know whether she was successful in her life. It didn’t take long for her to arrive at the truth–success is something that is gauged individually. It’s not defined by a social media post, how many people invite you to things, or having a career that you love.


Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

I’ve had this as my email signature for the past two years:

“‎Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” –Miller Williams”

I have never met a successful person who hasn’t had inner conflict, rough edges, or even some quirks such as being a bit too brash for most people’s tastes, missing social queues, or attracted to eccentricities.

In fact, it’s been those conflicts, rough edges, and quirks that have contributed most to living fully alive.

But I will say this: the most successful people I’ve ever met, at least by my own definition of success, have been the people willing to extend love and compassion to the people who are going through rough spaces and places.

This means not telling people that (or treating people as if) they’ll be less wanted because of their rough edges.

This means acknowledging that we cannot ever truly know “what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”

This means not holding people up to a measuring stick of goodness or rightness, before you’ll interact with them or deem them friendship-worthy.

(By the way, that “measuring stick mentality” carries with it an arrogant assumption that you will never be in the kind of pain that causes you not to behave so beautifully. Tread with caution if you’re attached to that measuring stick. Life just might humble you.)


Pure, unfiltered, heart-centered love.

Love for the messy, rough edges. And yep, love even for the people who are attached to their measuring sticks. That’s the place where they are at war with themselves. That’s painful, too.

Love. Just love.

That’s my definition of success.

* Yep, I have her blessing to write about this.