The Problem with Success

When you think of success, what do you imagine? Maybe success, to you, is a person – maybe it looks like your friend who has the perfect job, perfect apartment, and a perfect personality that you just can’t seem to “outshine.” Or maybe success is an irrational standard you’ve set for yourself based on someone else’s creativity. Our propensity towards comparison can skew our perception of success and inhibit our ability to find success in our jobs, our friendships, and our family lives.  Specifically, there are three problems that can skew our perceptions:

  1. Success is subjective.
“You do not determine your success by comparing yourself to others. Rather, you determine your success by comparing your accomplishments to your capabilities.” – Zig Ziglar

All to often, we as human beings compare our apples to someone else’s oranges. Often unconsciously, we look for people in similar situations as us and compare an aspect of our lives, or our whole lives, to theirs, resulting in a sense of unworthiness diminished in their bright shining spot light. But we forget too quickly that what success looks like to us is not what success may actually be for us, which leads us to the next point: success is undefined.

  1. Success is undefined.

A few years back, I started a wedding and portrait photography business that challenged me both creatively and organizationally. I had been working with other photographers for quite a few years before then and couldn’t wait to get started with my own business, so when a young couple approached me about photographing their wedding, I was over the moon excited. As the wedding date approached, I decided it would be a good idea to start looking at other wedding photographers’ work to get a clearer vision for what type of style I would want to start creating in my work, what sort of files I’d be expected to deliver to my clients, etc. At first, looking through other’s work was helpful. It gave me inspiration for shots, and helped me figure out what style I might want to move towards shooting in. But soon, a half hour of scrolling through wedding photography blogs turned into an hour. Then two hours. Then nearly five hours later, I slammed my laptop closed, frustrated by the shear volume of beautiful work that I knew I would in no way be able to even come close to for my first wedding. I was frustrated, upset, and felt unworthy to shoot the sweet couple’s wedding who had so graciously offered me the opportunity. Actually, I was so upset with my lack of experience and expertise that I almost called off the gig less than a month out.

The problem was that I was using other people’s success to define my own, when in fact, I should have been the one defining my own success. I looked at what the other photographers were creating and producing, measured my work against theirs (without taking into account how long they had been photographing weddings for, their individual skill set, and their backgrounds) and decided that I sucked compared to them. It led me down a road of comparison, which continues to test my perseverance to this day. Though I continue to struggle with using other people’s work to define my own success, I’m continuously learning to set my own standard and goals for my own success, and to only compare my new work to past work. If I’m improving where I want to be improving, I’m successful. Besides – who, besides myself, can define my success?

  1. Success looks a lot like failure.

Can I just be completely honest for a second? I hate this third point. I considered leaving it out because I really just didn’t want to deal with it being a reality. But I think this is one of the most important and fatal problems we experience when trying to reach success – success looks a LOT like failure. Like, TONS of failures, all of the time, in every way you can possibly imagine. When I first started my business, I was under the assumption that if I was meant to do something (and be successful doing it), things would be easy. Everything would fall into place. Everyone would encourage me, applaud my attempts and my creations, that my clients would be easy to deal with all of the time, that nothing would ever go wrong – what a messed up view. Here’s my most current perception of success:


Photo credit: SelfMadeSucess

As Thomas J. Watson so eloquently puts it, “Would you like me to give you a formula for… success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all… you can be discouraged by failure – or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that’s where you’ll find success. On the far side.”

How would you define success? Is your perception of success skewed due to comparison? Begin to determine your own success by creating goals and milestones that will keep you motivated and moving towards your own version of success.


Jenna Sasala is the lead Graphic Designer at Sparq Designs, a web development and online marketing company in Cranberry, PA

Jenna Sasala is a Marketing Account Manager & Designer at Sparq Designs, a digital marketing agency in Pittsburgh. Learn more about her, here. If you have questions about building a relationship, contact the  Sparq team today.

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