Redefining Success

I’m willing to bet you define success as tangible. Something you can see, something consistently visible like a medal or a trophy. I’m willing to bet success doesn’t feel real until you’ve won ribbons, until you’ve conquered odds. Success stories are all around us, accessible on social media and by word of mouth. Readily available to distract us from building our own success story.

Instead of congratulating ourselves on goals well-met, we beat ourselves up because we chipped that one fence. Instead of appreciating our persistence, our determination, we persist in thinking we’re not successful without the medals or ribbons or gold stars to prove it. What if we’re looking at the definition of success wrong, though?

We tend to think money and power equal success. Sometimes, money and power are boosted further by fame. But I think we’re missing something. In fact, we’re missing a few somethings that go into this equation.

Success is not the number of trophies you’ve won, the medals you’ve gathered, or the accolades you’ve achieved. It is, instead, perhaps, rooted in the satisfaction you get out of encouraging your spooky horse to go quietly in an indoor arena he once hated and feared. Success is cultivated through self-satisfaction and the knowledge you did everything you could. It’s about enjoying your work, finding fulfillment in the journey, and liking what you do as well as how you do it (thanks, Maya Angelou).

My favorite definition of success, though, comes from good old Winston Churchill. What do you know, but the guy was a horseman himself, too! Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

I’m not sure more applicable words have ever been said.

Mclain Ward worked tirelessly to stand on the podium at the World Cup. We see Mclain as a success story; his career is almost magical, and his horses are legendary. What we don’t see under the guise of his “successful” career are the losses. The disappointments, the failures. It took Mclain Ward 17 tries to win the World Cup! Earlier in his career, he came in second place at the Maclay Finals… yet, he is a success story because he persisted. And he persisted, and then he persisted some more, never losing enthusiasm.

Nick Skelton is a phenomenal rider with a long career. The man broke his neck, and continued to follow his passion, finding fulfillment in the journey. His enthusiasm accompanied him all the way to the Olympic podium, winning Gold as an individual champion in Show Jumping.

We see medals, we see superstar horses, and we see athletes who look like they’re made of steel. But maybe they are, and that’s the key to their success. Working in a mine, chipping away at the minerals there, eventually coming out with something valuable.

Redefining success doesn’t mean losing your goals, or setting your sights lower. Success, let’s say, is much like classical dressage. Classical dressage often offers the perspective that you’re constantly training your horse. Constantly evolving your knowledge, your technique, and your work. To be successful, find fulfillment in your journey. String your disappointments and failures along like a rope that will get you to your next success. Enjoy your work, create new goals. But never lose sight of the fact that success isn’t something you can see or touch. Success is overcoming, progressing, and persisting.

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