J. Kevin Tumlinson

In my line of work, sometimes it’s hard to measure whether or not you’re “successful.” What ruler do you use? Money? Fame? The sheer volume of women’s under-garments that are casually thrown your way as you walk into Neiman-Marcus?

I hope not – because so far those things have eluded me in anything you might call a “large quantity.” Except for the women’s under-garments thing…

I have to believe that success is defined on a more personal level. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s just loser talk for ‘I’m nobody but I want to feel like SOMEBODY!’” And heck, in some ways you’re right. Some of us just don’t have the throngs of adoring fans waiting outside the gates of our palatial mansions. There might be fewer zeros in our bank accounts (mine frequently only has one). And our faces may never appear on the cover of any major magazine. But does that mean we aren’t successful?

What is the real measure of success? I pretty much grew up believing it was money. But now that I’m older and out working in the “real world,” and seeing my hopes and dreams challenged every day, I’ve had to change my definition. Money isn’t a very good mark of success. Think about it… the execs at Enron had money, but you wouldn’t exactly call them successful these days.

And fame, of course, is fleeting. Somewhere there’s sure to be a list of celebrities who just can’t draw a crowd anymore, but in their day could fill movie theaters and sell concert tickets with a wink. They were famous… were they successful? Is success something that can fade over time, too?

See, that’s why success HAS to be something you define for yourself. It has to be “personal.” Otherwise, we’re all failures in SOMEONE’s eyes.

I don’t make tons of money. I have issues with keeping car payments and rent coming in. Sometimes, I have to play the floating check song and dance just to get by. It’s been known to happen. And just because I’m at a point now where I make more money than I’ve ever made, and live more comfortably than I’ve ever lived, doesn’t mean I’m necessarily successful.

What makes me successful in my own eyes is the fact that I’ve accomplished a lot of the things I’ve always dreamt of. I grew up saying that I wanted to be a writer and… KAZAM! I’m a writer. I became interested in film and television and BAM! I work in film and television. I always wanted to be able to take great photos and create stunning graphics and BOOYA! I’m a graphic artist. I measure my success by the fact that I can accomplish anything I want to accomplish. All it takes is effort and dedication.

That’s my measure of success, but that doesn’t mean it has to be yours. Are you a skater? Working on the perfect grind? Do you paint? Are you a dancer? Do you work in construction? Do you play piano in your off hours? Are you successful?

You’re really the only one who can answer that. And I think the problem we have most of the time is that we’ve gotten locked into this idea that it’s the world outside of ourselves that sets the standards for success. Money isn’t really an issue, if you think about it. You either have money or you don’t. If your measure of success is, “I want to be a millionaire,” then you’ve set a high goal for yourself. It’s possible to make it – just tough.

I’ve always liked the idea of setting small steps for success and building up as you go. Goal setting, I guess. “I will be successful when I learn to play the piano.” That’s an easy goal if you’re dedicated to it, and it means that success is easy, too. And once you’re successful, you can’t go back to being “unsuccessful.” But you CAN go forward… you can pick a new measure of success – say, playing piano in public to an appreciative crowd. Meet that goal and you’re successful in ANOTHER thing.

And you just keep going from there.


J. Kevin Tumlinson is the Editor & Publisher of ViewOnline (www.viewonline.com), the author of the weekly syndicated column ViewPoint, and the owner of Hat Digital Media (www.hatdigitalmedia.com). He thinks he's successfully managed to get his shirt tail stuck in his zipper.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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