A few weeks ago, Lizzie Davey sent her weekly motivational email and asked this question.

…And, while it WAS my most successful week financially so far, I didn’t feel any different at the end of it. I didn’t feel the high I got when I landed my first client. I didn’t feel the joy I feel when I can get out the house in the middle of the day for as long as I want without having to answer to anyone.

I felt exactly the same as I did at the beginning of the week.

And now I’ve figured out why I wasn’t ordering in the champers and donning gold chains around my neck. It’s because money doesn’t equal success for me.

For so long, I thought I’d feel “complete” and “happy” when I earned X amount each month. But when I reached that and exceeded it, I just felt the same as I’d always done.

Success for me is about personal achievements: getting great feedback from a client, landing a job I absolutely love, and being able to create a schedule where I have the freedom to come and go as I please.

Then Lizzie asked her readers, like me:

What does success look like to you? How will you know when you’ve “made it”? Is there a financial amount attached to it, or is it more about time and inner achievements for you?


I emailed Lizzie, thanking her for bringing up this topic. She challenged me to define success. I responded that I wanted to explore my thoughts in writing. While I don’t yet have a complete description of success, I have made progress in the definition.

Success ≠ my bank account. While I need money to give and live, my bank account does not define success.

Success = achievements? Others consider someone successful if that person is an Oscar-winning star, or has won awards. That would mean that only if I achieve something you recognize, then I’ll be successful. That means you’re judging me on what you see me do. What about the inner conflicts and challenges I overcome? Someone on the outside doesn’t see those, and those achievements may be even more powerful than what I show on the outside.

Success defined by outside visible actions doesn’t define what success means to me.

To paraphrase Lizzie, getting great feedback from a client or landing the job are achievements from the outside. I may look successful. But the process—inside work—is what really led to the success. I built on the talents I was given and worked on the confidence to become the person who could achieve the goal.

Overcoming the inner challenges is the success; the job/client/kudos are manifestations of the inner achievement.

As Lizzie said “But when I reached that and exceeded it, I just felt the same as I’d always done.” In part, I agree. I did the work, performed well, and achieved a payment. Yet I don’t feel the same inside. I probably faced some inner conflict while working on the job/client and I overcame those challenges. Now I feel grateful for the internal accomplishment, for the Divine assistance I received that led to the external payment.

The internal accomplishment is my success.

On the Creative Freelancers Unite (Facebook community) we talk about wins. I learn to define an action as a win even if it’s small and I don’t attain the ultimate goal.

A publication may reject my submission. Does that mean I wasn’t successful? No! The action of submitting is a win. I overcame the fear of submitting an article, I overcame an internal obstacle and was successful in that battle!

Inside-Out. Perhaps success starts from the inside and moves out. I need to feel positive inside for me to be successful from the outside. My internal accomplishments are my successful wins!


What’s your definition for success?


Ralph Waldo Emerson had some thoughts many years ago:

On True Success

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 a false friendship;

to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others,

to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child

or garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

–I truly hope I leave the world a bit better because I have lived!