The Most Dangerous Way to Measure Success

Only you know if you’re accomplishing who you set out to be. Stop looking around at silvery glimpses of other people’s lives and judging yourself. Trust me, you don’t know the whole story. We never can. Define success on your own terms and stick to it.

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he
thinks should be.”
~ Albert Einstein

Oh, there’s big inspiration in success and possibility, but be sure it resonates with your life strategy. It’s easy to measure a single dimension of success by trophies and other trappings. Great leaders and great human beings set their own benchmarks of success.

Laura’s Story

“I just love coming to the National Speakers Association convention, but I had to stop coming for a while.”

I was sure my new friend, Laura, (not her real name) was going to tell me about tight finances, a booked business calendar, or kid’s soccer schedules.

Instead Laura confided:

“Don’t get me wrong. The convention has always been amazing. The trouble is, I would be totally happy before I came. I loved my life. I had a strong business which I juggled well with the priority of raising my children. But then I would come to the convention and see how much everyone else was doing to build their speaking career, and I would get depressed thinking of all the things I should be doing.  For a while it was just easier to stay away.”

“How do you feel about your choices now?” I asked. Laura lit up:

“Fantastic, my kids are all good human beings doing well in the world. I was able to involve them in some of my travel as I built the business, and also to be around. I built a strong foundation for my career and now that the kids are older, I’m making more discretionary money which we’re using for big family vacations with our grown kids. They want to hang out with us. I feel really good about my choices. I have no regrets.”

We talked about motherhood and values, and raising children deliberately (and saving money for vacations). I couldn’t resist: “You might really enjoy my e-book on developing leadership in kids…it’s free.

“Want me to send you a copy?”

“No way! She replied.”

Now I was a bit puzzled, surely she would resonate.

Laura shared matter of factly:

“Every time I read a book like that I feel I SHOULD have written it, and it makes me sad.”

I imagine more than a few folks have told her she SHOULD write a book.The most dangerous “shoulds” were still lingering inside her.

The Power of Shoulds

Shoulds are powerful and dangerous. “Should haves” are an energy-sucking waste of time. Be sure your shoulds are your own. If they won’t shut up, turn your “should haves” into concrete plans.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Developing Leadership In Children and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Success is measured by how happy I feel.

    If something or someone is draining my energy, even though there was a positive outcome, I feel empty. Almost glad it’s over.

    It’s happened to me a few times. Today I choose people, places, or things that light me up.

  2. Great post Karen including the photo. I so appreciate knowing I am not the only one who puts a lid on my energy this way.

    Question – why are my shoulds any better than others? I still think of them as programming rather than choice. Is that just my definition?

    Here’s a great saying that I use to remind me not to “should” and also indicated how poisonous it is.

    “I try not to should on myself” 😉

    • Lisa, The photo was taken by my Dad… I love his photography. I love the question you raise. I think so often we tend to question our own heart, and think someone else’s shoulds are the right ones. Thanks so much for extending the conversation.

  3. Great post Karin and I have to agree that when we are always talking of “shoulds” instead of “dids” we are selling ourselves short.

    I measure success by being able to balance all the important choices in my personal and professional life. I live by the mantra that I can do everything I want, just not at the same time. I have learned to seize opportunities when I am ready to welcome them and not to beat myself up for things that might have happened. Timing and mindset create success as well.

    Thanks Karin!

  4. There is a tension between being aware of your challenges, and growing from them and being discouraged by measuring success against others. Perhaps it is best said, that you should measure against the best version of yourself, being true to your values, and standards, without seeking to be someone you are not.

  5. Couldn’t agree more, though I’m just now figuring this out for myself. Dan Rockwell turned me on to the book “The War of Art” and in it Pressfield talks about the ‘resistance’ voice inside of us using both praise and criticism to distract us from doing the work we know we need to do. Neither actually helps all that much and we need to just keep doing the work that matters and that we fear the most.

  6. As always a great article Karen. I like Laura’s attitude. In this world we (Society) tend to focus on the negative. What we should have done. For example I am just back from a vacation(?) of “Honey Do’s”. Each day we had things we wanted to do. The list was quite extrensive. At the end of the week we looked at all the things we didn’t get done and were sad we had not accomplished all we wanted. We did not even look at the things we did accomplish (Which was quite a lot). I think we need to focus on the things we do get acomplihed and say thank you for the ability to get them done. There will always be people that do more than you and there will always be people that do less than you so be happy you can do what you can.

    • Woody, Thanks so much. What a terrific example. Boy do I know that feeling of not being able to get enough done around the house. I like your approach!

  7. What a bittersweet story, Karin!

    “Every time I read a book like that I feel I SHOULD have written it, and it makes me sad.” It takes real discernment to know the difference between reaching out for those things that will give us meaning in life and those things that we think should give us meaning.

    And yet, often when I’ve felt a tug to keep moving toward a goal I’ve learned to heed it. Or at least dig deep enough to find out where the emotion is coming from.

    Laura’s response makes me wonder WHY she reacted the way she did…I suspect there is a desire to write her book. I hope she reads yours!

    • LaRae, That’s my thought too. It’s such a complicated story. On one hand she has so much to be proud of and grateful for. And it does seem like there’s a book still inside her.

  8. I love this whole thought and life pattern. We all need the courage to level with ourselves and focus on what we have, not on what we’ve lost. Capitalize on what we can do, not on what we cannot. We grow into our own person instead of suffocating trying to be who we are not. How do I measure success? First realize until I cross the finish line, it’s not over. I measure success not in fame or income or status. I measure it in the number of times I do the right thing – in relationships, accomplishments at work, household tasks, and contentment in my spirit.

    • Jane, Thanks so much for joining the conversation. What a beautiful definition of success.

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