Commentary: How do you define success?

dvm360dvm360 January 2022
Volume 53
Issue 1

It is important to define what success is for you at this moment. You will find that some things are more important than others at different times in your life, and that is OK. Our veterinary careers, the relationships we develop, and everything in between are parts of our life journey and play a role in our success.

A bit of introspection will help you get an idea and, eventually, a very clear visualization of what success means to you and how to achieve it.

Ask yourself: What does success look like? And, more importantly, what does it feel like? Note the difference between the 2 questions. On paper, your answers may look good; yet inside your mind, body, and/or spirit, there is turbulence and suffering. In other words, your life may feel different from how it looks.

On the other hand, it could be the opposite. You may lead a very different lifestyle than that of the peers you grew up with, one that may not look successful to them but makes you happier, engaged, and more fulfilled.

What does success look like?

What is the big picture, and what does it look like if you zoom in? Look at how you spend your time. Walk through an ideal day, an ideal interaction, and so forth.

As you check many of the common boxes for adulthood success, it is necessary to tune in to whether those boxes align with who you are and whether they allow you to experience true well-being, an intentionally created state, rather than a pseudo well-being, which is circumstantial.

Perhaps you go years without acknowledging your quality of life, despite the many client conversations you have on the topic. Then you get to a point and ask, “How did I end up here?” or “Why does this not fit for me, but it does for someone else?” or “Is this what success is all about?”

Depending on your current stage of life, success may mean very different things, such as graduating college, becoming a parent, retiring, or caring for an elderly parent.

Who we are as dynamic individuals and how we want to experience our lives brings awareness to the little things, which are the moments that make up what success means to us. This is where personal development and mindfulness become useful resources in your toolbox for building a successful life. Cultivating these skills will allow you to bring success into each area of your life. You then can lean on self-reliance and/or the relationships with mentors to guide you along the way.

But many individuals check a box of what they think success looks like and yet miss the reason why, which either enhances or diminishes your well-being depending on where you are along your path.

What does success feel like?

The “feels like” question guides you to your “why.” This is the driving factor behind individual motivation and value. What feels good for one person may not feel good for another, but somehow we tried to apply the same one-size-fits-all approach to life, and it’s not fitting.

Developing core values can be very useful, because your core values will help you define your why, which will change over time. Therefore, it’s necessary to intentionally reevaluate your core values on occasion.

Time may be one of your most important assets. You’ve probably heard the adage “Time is money.” Perhaps that rings true for you, but remember, time is many other things as well. To me, time is connectedness; time is freedom. This “why” keeps me focused on what matters and helps me assert boundaries.

In my early 20s, my mental health and physical health suffered greatly as I struggled to find grounding in the veterinary profession. It wasn’t until I put my well-being at the forefront of everything I did that I overcame those challenges, finding success in my emotional balance first and then other areas of my life.

The 1 word I could come up with at the time was happy. This became the guiding principle to my success. That was the start of me defining why I’m doing what I’m doing—what it looked like and how it felt. This led me to further developing clarity around the vision of my life, and the quality of my mind and my experiences. It raised the energy I brought into each aspect of my life, allowing me to establish healthy boundaries and move forward in a way that felt authentic to me.

Do more of what makes you happy

Let’s say you design a picture of your ideal life but you recognize that you are not actually spending your days engaging in the things that make up that picture. You now can reallocate your resources (time, energy, focus, etc) to support that ideal vision. This is how you are going to achieve success. If you are oblivious to these things, you can’t manage or change them.

Mindfulness allows you to systematically pay attention, without judgment, to the present moment. Knowing where you are and sitting with where you are—the space between stimulus and response. You can create a road map without feeling overwhelmed. This allows you to reverse-engineer the picture and reveal the process that creates the ideal.

You are moving from the reactive to the intentional while remaining
in the present. There is a mindset shift, a sense of ownership and empowerment that creates confidence and competence in solving the problems that naturally arise in life and in the veterinary profession.

Let’s apply this logic behind each one of the pieces in your picture, what success looks like, what it feels like, and why it feels that way. Ultimately, these elements shape your internal representation or the meaning of these experiences. These are your beliefs, some of which serve you and some for which you may need to hit the “unsubscribe” button.

Does this perspective or does this activity still matter to you? Is this what you believe to be true? Or is this a belief that was borrowed from your parents or a habit derived from Keeping Up with the Joneses? Does it move you closer or farther away from your vision of success?

If you drive a car and the tire is not fully inflated, the ride will be quite bumpy—our lives are the same way. Using the life wheel, which identifies multiple areas in our lives, we can see that if all of our energy and awareness is being used up on 1 or 2 areas, it makes sense that other areas of our lives would suffer, and it would feel wrong, and the results of this misalignment would show.

If we lose sight of the “why” behind our picture, the meaning of these material manifestations is lost, and we tend to aimlessly wander about, often misplacing our efforts. This could lead to attributing sleepless nights to surface-level issues and not the deeper unresolved misalignment, which can send us down a path that leads us farther from our ideal life.

Addressing these questions is not an easy task. You must be able to elicit 1-word responses at first, then a sentence describing an ideal experience, which guides you to a complete vision and mission statement that’s not for your organization but for your life or perhaps your family unit.

Your picture becomes enhanced, and then it becomes crystal clear. These concepts and skills work hand in hand and allow you to uncover the steps required to cultivate or nurture that vision. If laughing with friends is in your vision, you must create connections to allow that vision to take place in your reality. If managing difficult cases or clients with ease is in the vision, then you have to put time and effort into your stress responses and communication skills.

The word success can be applied to 1 area of your life, your entire life, and even who you are. I challenge you to answer these questions defining success.

Renee Machel is a cofounder of Get MotiVETed LLC, a provider of well-being solutions for the veterinary community. Visit to learn more about designing your life and to download templates such as the life wheel.

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