Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

by Stacey Ebert /
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Jul 11, 2024 / 0 comments

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded! - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

It’s officially July, the halfway mark of any year. How are you doing? Graduations, summer, internships, playdates, free time, progress, leisure time, planning, growing, being—all of it, it’s here. 

The space between what was, what is, and what will be: July, that midway point where we look back to reflect, stay present to experience, and dream and plan what we wish or will. 

Whatever stage you’re in, keep going. Wherever you feel called, go there. However you show up, keep doing it. Take rest, give yourself grace, breathe, and leap

The best is yet to come. 

Summer flows. Somehow, the air is different, our steps brighter, and our hearts lighter. The abundant hours of daylight lift the spirit and allow for free space to quite literally be quiet. 

It’s here, in that space between, where reflection takes hold. Midlife is a midpoint; yet midyear, or midsummer in some cultures, is that time to recall what has been, what’s worked, what might necessitate change, and how we can stretch further to ignite our spirit to challenge ourselves to grow in the months ahead. Before we challenge, we take stock. 

With that mindset, we reach forward. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

If success (or the concept of success) is somewhere in those mindful conversations, what’s your definition? 

According to Merriam-Webster, success is “a favorable or desired outcome, a measure of succeeding.” 

When did you first learn about success? Was it a gold star moment in class, a high-five on the field, a warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy, an award, a check, a status symbol? Do you recall your first success moment? Somehow, many of us have been taught that success equals wealth, status, power, ownership, assets, and possessions. 

Does it have to be that way? Do we want it to be that way? 

What if we wanted, for ourselves, success to mean something different? Can we do that? Can we shift our focus to measure success differently? Of course, we most certainly can. 

My friend Melissa and I often talk about our ideas of success. We wander into the territory of norms of society, traditional accepted versions of milestones, and how anything that roams from that path becomes a ‘choice’ or a ‘you do you’ turn of phrase. She recently said, “10-15 years ago, I would have said success was meeting all of the expectations I thought others had of me, and being able to show off all the boxes I checked along the way. The standard successes. Now, success is watching the face of a kindergartener light up when they make it over a jump rope for the first time or the feeling you have when you know they made it over the rope because it was you who taught them. Success is little things, and big things, and loud things, and quiet things and all the in-between things. Success has become a continuous journey through life.” (Melissa Muller, Physical Education teacher)  

In a few weeks, the Olympic Torch will finish its own continuous journey and touch down in Paris to literally and figuratively light a flame. The city of love will come alive with feats of greatness, resilience, stamina, and stories that touch our hearts and leave us speechless. Humans of all ages and stages will set their sights to leave their mark on history, reach the wall first, and leave it all on the mat. Their chosen moments will tell us much about the human experience. And while the weight of that pinnacle of Olympic success might be attaining that gold medal, what takes flight from those two weeks of international sports and goodwill far exceeds the majesty of that golden sparkle. Heralded narratives are often the likes of strength, persistence, kindness, positive attitudes, overcoming struggles, grit, compassion, teamwork, sportsmanship, courage, and unmatched spirits far beyond the gold medal. 

Today, we don’t have to look too far to find mentors and voices sharing their every success story. From TikTok to podcasts galore, there are mindfulness gurus, humanist psychologists, coaches, entrepreneurs, and ordinary hearts available to help us change our stars, challenge our expectations, and tip our direction forward. There are channels dedicated to uplifting your life, the likes of Jay Shetty, Martha Beck, Dr. Laurie Santos, Tony Robbins, and other talented coaches who influence our stuckness and help to move us toward our next big thing. 

What if we took a moment to sit with our own definition of success. What is it? Do we wish it to remain the same? How did we see it when we were younger versus what do we wish it to be today? If we wish to kick society’s definition of success to the curb, can we do it? When I was in school, I’m certain I didn’t think this was a choice. Guess what? It most certainly is. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

There’s no one right way to go through life. 

Buddha reminds us that “the only constant in life is change.” So, if society’s definition of success is for you, keep at it. If your own definition of success tells you something else, go for it. 

Time and again we’ve witnessed moguls, sports personalities, and everyday heroes define their identity, live their truth, and challenge the status quo. It’s not only okay to do exactly that, it’s paramount to living that authentic life.

In the coming days and months ahead, how will you show up? How will you curate your life for successful moments? How will you know you’ve attained those golden medals?

Summer is made for rest, and rejuvenation; sometimes a part of that is rethinking how we wish to model our lives. And maybe, summer is the perfect time to strive to reach the pinnacle that matters to you. Be it kindness, balanced life, leaving a legacy, knowing your worth, resting more, or attaining your goals, it’s valid, worthy, vital, and yours. 

Own your Olympic-level moments. Live your own great story. Stamp your ticket to what success means to you. And whatever your version of that gold medal, go for it. 

We can’t wait to watch you thrive! 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

3 tips and tricks to discover your definition of success

My definition of success is doing what you love. I feel many people do things because they feel they have to; and are hesitant to risk following their passion. - Tony Hawk

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

Shift the focus

“What do you think success is?” asked the boy. “To love,” said the mole. - Charlie Mackey

Society’s version of success has often been about the big-ticket items, the biggest baubles, and the blingiest of blings. While thankfully today, there are more spaces where meditation, mindfulness, meaning, and mindset are playing into the whole picture, much of the world uses money and status as the goal of success. “In high school, I was chasing money as the definition of success,” says Jim Sabellico, Entrepreneur. Yet, today, he shares the view that “pulling up to your beautiful house in an exotic car isn’t what makes you successful. It’s the feeling you get when you open the door and step in.” 

A growth mindset allows for expansion, malleability, and new direction. Chip Conley, founder of Modern Elder Academy and NYT best-selling author, describes much of this shift in focus in his teachings and his book Learning to Love Midlife - 12 Reasons Life Gets Better with Age. The neuroplasticity of our brain allows for taking in new information and learning new; yet it’s our choice if we can turn that information into wisdom and uplevel our lives from the inside out. 

Maybe success shifts from cultivating more stuff to engaging a beginner’s mindset, from earning more accolades to creating more time to spend with those that bring us joy, or from acquiring more assets to experiencing greater gratitude. 

It’s up to you to decide—then act accordingly. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

Quiet the ‘shoulds’

Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives. - Michelle Obama

Have you ever experienced the shoulds? They can be loud and noisy and definitively growth stunting. The shoulds come from voices other than our own, and offer directives that might not be a part of our initial journey. They remind me of the wisdom of Shel Silverstein’s Listen to the Mustn'ts:  

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 

It takes a strong mindset to pummel those shoulds out of earshot—or allow them in but refuse them control over our lives. Wherever the noise comes from, it’s literally that: noise. 

According to Psychology Today, “shoulds are connected to unrealistic expectations.” To ditch them, we “aspire to catch your unrealistic expectations with curiosity, and approach them with humor and softness…It can help to change your “shoulds” to “wishes” and “hopes.” This way, there is less attachment, and you are free to move beyond anger toward compassion, positivity, and solutions…When your decisions and actions are all built upon a conscious choice…you live your life based on your values and who you aspire to be. You are driven by an intrinsic motivation that creates flow, ease, and positivity.”

Home Organizer Deb Glazer shares, “when I was younger, success meant getting good grades, putting in effort, and trying my hardest because that was expected. We never talked about "success," per se. In some ways, I think I was "playing" adult; doing the things I thought I was supposed to be doing. Reflecting back, I think I was on autopilot, striving to check the societally prescribed boxes. At 56, I'm thinking that success is about being in alignment inside and out. It feels like there's something about showing up, stretching, and being challenged…at this point it's gotta come from within; I'm the one in charge of my own path and success.”

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

Exit the race

For me, success is inner peace. That’s a good day for me. - Denzel Washington

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to step out of the race we didn’t want to run in the first place. Last Olympics, Simone Biles took the pause she needed. While she continues to flip, twist, and spin in awe-filled feats never before tried, her outlook at present is far different than any other Olympics. Today she answers questions with renewed focus—about her frame of mind, having fun, and that gymnastics is something she does, but not who she is. Like other athletes and actors who have ditched what society thought might be the holy grail of success for something different, she may have actually flipped success on its head. 

Here’s the thing: we may have once had one version of what success looked like, but then it changed. It might a priority shift, a mindset readjustment, a quality of life, or a change of pace. Whatever the reason, the choice changed the journey. 

Attaining accolades and assets morphed into wellbeing, lifestyle, and choosing a divergent view that at times feels like swimming upstream. It’s not always easy to set the course, be the change, or carve your own path.
It might not be easy, but it just might be right for you. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: What’s your definition of success?

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. - Maya Angelou



Please click the photo below for a collection of my Through the Eyes of an Educator columns:

 A Compendium


Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.