The Big Question: What Does Success Look Like?What does success look like? That’s not a big question. It’s huge. One that changes all the time.

Some years ago, I started working from home so we could save money on after-school care for our kids. In fairness, that wasn’t the only reason, but it was a huge driver.

At the time, I admit it seemed like a compromise. A decision we didn’t “have to” make, but one that did make a lot of sense.

More than five years later, I credit that move as one of the most important decisions I’ve made. It changed what success looks like for me.

Before? Success was a little ephemeral. A big salary. Benefits. Security.

Ha. Security. Right?

Now? Success looks like my family. It looks like flexibility and the support of an amazing team and virtual culture. It looks like making a difference in the PR and marketing community.

What about you?

Twenty-five years from now, when you’re a huge success, what will it look like?

A podcast I just listened to, along with my own experiences to date, insist that we have to look at the good and the bad.

Everything has an affect. An illness, a bad decision, a failure. Along with the good things.

Success can take on many guises, which makes this week’s Big Question so interesting:

What does success look like for you?

Two Big Questions?

I’m happy to say there were MANY responses to this Big Question, but many of them addressed “what will you attribute it to,” rather than the arguably bigger question. 

When asked, “What does success look like to you?”, instead of painting that picture, many respondents provided their secrets to success.

Work hard. Never give up. Persistence.

There was even an adage! (The Six Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance).

Great advice across the board, but we’re going to focus on what success looks like.

We knew our question got through to people when we came across Timothy Wiedman’s response.

I have to apologize to Mr. Wiedman out of the gate. His answer, the context and reason behind his definition and vision of success, was amazing, but it was also super-super-super long (which is saying a lot, coming from me).

As a result, I had to cut-to-the-chase for him. I hope he doesn’t mind!

What Does Success Look Like? Do What You Love

In short, Mr. Wiedman spent many years working 60-hour work weeks doing something he didn’t like.

He was stressed, exhausted, and didn’t have time to enjoy the life he was building. So he made a change.

What does success look like for Mr. Wiedman?

Over the course of my working life, it is entirely possible that I would have been better off financially if I had stuck with my management career (and its 60-hour work weeks).

But money isn’t everything—and at some point, you’ll likely have more than you really *need* in order to live comfortably in retirement.

In my opinion, it is more important to live your life doing things that you *really* enjoy.

I believe that (best-selling author and businessman) Harvey Mackay once said, “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

And who can argue with that?

What Does Success Look Like? A Near-Death Experience

Sometimes the status quo works. Sometimes we don’t even know it’s possible to strive for more.

For James Nowlin? It took a near-death experience to provide him with the perspective he needed.

I used to be okay with just keeping my job as a corporate attorney and go on vacations every now and then.

All that changed when I got involved in a near-fatal kayaking accident.

I barely survived the amount of water that managed to get into my lungs. As I was thinking I would die, thoughts about numerous regrets came flashing in my mind.

Once I was safe, I realized I need to change. I need to live more purposefully so I can live a life without regrets.

So I quit my job and risked everything to create my very own corporate consulting firm.

My company just celebrated its 10th year anniversary a month ago.

I still consider that kayaking accident that nearly killed me as the best thing that has ever happened to me. My awakening after that accident was the biggest contributor to my success.

Do it Scared

What does success look like for Amy Saunders? Taking chances. And fear.

Success for me is taking chances. Success for me is at least having tried.

I never want to look back not knowing how things could have turned out—whether good or bad.

If I try and fail, at least I tried, and the possibility of failure didn’t scare me stupid or out of the possibility of learning and growth.

Failure is only possible when I haven’t learned from a situation.

My key to success: Whatever it is, jumping out of a plane or starting your dream company, do it scared.

What Does Success Look Like? Failure

From Casey Tibbs:

I have no doubt that I will attribute future success to three main things: failure, forward momentum, and a great team.

If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying anything new or disruptive.

I’ve learned SO much from my business failures. I couldn’t have learned, though, had I not maintained forward momentum during those trying times.

Everyone fails and falters; it’s those who simply *keep going* who find success.

And during those times, as well as during periods of success, nothing can replace a great team who has your back when you’re down and boosts you up even higher when you’re winning.

What Does Success Look Like? A Legacy

From Lorrie Thomas Ross:

In 25 years, I will attribute my success to creating a community (my company team, friends, and business community), having a strong vision, and continually reinventing.

To me, success is about leaving a legacy, knowing that my expertise has helped others do meaningful work and grow their businesses.

It also means creating a solid financial foundation for my family.

The keys to doing this are to not *spend* time working, but instead to *invest*.

Create marketing collateral that supports you and helps you voice your value and values.


For Rashea Jenkins, success looks like her anxiety.

I have anxiety, and during the past several months I’ve been learning how to understand how it affects me, both good and bad.

Sometimes it freezes me in indecision when I have too much stress or have procrastinated on a project. But, in most cases, it’s driven me with a desire to not miss out on life and opportunities.

I look at my anxiety as a dare.

So many people use it as an excuse not to do something, and I’ve turned that around to be the exact reason to do something.

As a result, I’ve learned about hobbies like sewing, photography, and traveling to new places. I’ve applied for jobs that I figured I had no chance of getting.

Do it Your Own Way

Lori Cheek had a lightbulb moment and it changed her life, along with her vision of success:

My definition of success has changed drastically since I started my business in 2010.

I’ve gone from 15 years of helping build someone else’s dream to a life dedicated to building my own. Success to me is to be able to spend your life in your own way.

I no longer have a job, I have a lifestyle and am miraculously always working but I’ve never been happier because I love what I do.

My advice?

My strongest advice for others considering taking the leap is if you truly believe in your idea, give up excuses and doubt, surround yourself with a trusted and talented team, bulldoze forward and DON’T. LOOK. BACK.

Find Success Where and When You Can

Julia Carcamo, a member of our free Slack Community, found what success looks like while completing one of her 30-Day Communication Challenge assignments:

I’m catching up on my challenge assignments and I just finished the “success” assignment.

Most would think it’s an income number, but success for me is when I’m able to assign a task to someone that I know will follow through.

What Does Success Look Like? Rubber Ducks

Twenty-five years ago, Craig Wolfe took a huge risk, and found success in a very unlikely venture:

What does success look like now? I would say it would be being recognized as the best in our industry, making rubber ducks with a level of creativity and intricacy that is unequaled.

In fact, so many people come to us now to have us create ducks for them that we are considered the top custom duck manufacturer in the world.

Plus we even returned a good portion of the industry back to the USA to be the only ones making them here once again where the industry began.

That to me is success… and leaving all the money from this venture to non-profit to do good in the world after I pass. That’s really the heart of success to me!

What Does Success Look Like?

There’s no clear, definitive answer to this big question. And, based on these responses, there shouldn’t be.

Did you make mistakes? That doesn’t translate into failure. If you learned from them and pivoted, perhaps that new path led you to a success you didn’t even see coming.

Career changes. Writing a book. Taking up a hobby. Reducing stress. Spending more time with your kids. Planning for retirement.

Success is subjective, and the steps toward it are myriad. If you’re working towards it, and you and yours are happy, you are winning in my book.

Up Next: 2018 PR and Marketing Trends

Artificial intelligence, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, influencers, IoT, marketing automation, mobile, SEO, social data… the list goes on (and on, and on).

Each year, there’s a difference-maker. A tool or tactic that seems to be on everyone’s wish list. Maybe it’s a new social channel, or perhaps Amazon will, ultimately, take over the world and change the game for everyone.

Joking aside, our next big question asks what 2018 has in store for communicators?

What PR and marketing technology, activity or innovation is going to have the most impact in 2018?

You can answer here, in our free Slack community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

Wait, There’s More!

Speaking of success, have you picked up your copy of The Communicator’s Playbook: A Step-by-Step Process for Implementing an Integrated PESO Model Program yet?

It’s the only thing you will need to plan for success in 2018.

Once you are finished reading the book—and doing the homework—you will have a fully executable communications plan that will help you kick serious butt this year.

You’re welcome!

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

View all posts by Mike Connell