How to figure out if you're successful—in veterinary practice or simply in life

Rather than going by society's rules, ask yourself one key question.
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Feb 01, 2013

Some people define success by how fancy the car they drive is. Others look at whether they have a big house, a huge paycheck or even a thick head of hair.

While most people strive for some sort of success, they often base it on someone else's experiences, goals and accomplishments. But the pursuit of those things can be a hard and costly climb. The attainment of one goal may easily be accompanied by failure in another area of life, costing you friends and family. Can you call that success?


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You must define what success means to you so you know what it looks like. And it's pretty hard to know what it looks like or feels like if you've never taken the time to look closely at yourself, what you want and what you're willing to do to attain it.

Measuring success

Even within our profession there are many yardsticks we use to measure success. We describe success as a measure of achievement, accomplishment, attainment, acknowledgment and accumulation of wealth. But there is a universal measure of success that is underappreciated among our ranks. Success can be gauged by the answer to one question you must ask of yourself: "How happy am I?"

No single experience or achievement is more a measure of success than happiness. By nature, happiness is noncompetitive—unlike wealth or achievement, it's internal. Your happiness can be measured only relative to your own experience. What's important to you and what are you willing to do to reach that goal? What are you willing to do without or give up? As Abraham Lincoln said, "People are just about as happy as they make up their mind to be."

Costly pursuits

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with financial gain or the accumulation of wealth. But people don't often consciously consider the cost of such gains or accomplishments and their willingness to pay that cost.

Long hours, high levels of stress, social and family problems—all are part of the price of admission. Unless it's personally prioritized, the pursuit of wealth as a goal may blind us to truth. Money doesn't mean success and it certainly doesn't equal happiness. How successful you are is reflected in and reflective of your happiness.

Reality check

Life is the reality of things we have control over and the frustrations we have over the things we can't control. Focus on making the most of what you can and accept the things you can't change. That will lead to two important results: less anxiety over things that are beyond your control and more focus and energy to invest in things you can change.

While we can't always choose our own situation, we can do a lot to influence our interpretation of our experience and how we respond to it. Finding happiness goes arm in arm with personal success. Life balance, harmony, making a difference—these are all steps and building blocks involved in reaching the success of happiness.

Live in the moment

We all have a tendency to think, "As soon as this happens, I'll be happy." Or, "If I were as wealthy or good-looking or athletic or smart as she is, I would be a success." Consider the famous country song "A Satisfied Mind." Now, I'm not saying that success and happiness and all that goes with them are as simple as a song lyric, but consider this: Now is the only moment you really have, and it's up to you to make the most of it.

So find the happiness in each and every day. Then, regardless of wealth or professional prominence, you'll be able to consider yourself a success.

Dr. Michael Paul , @mikepauldvm on Twitter, is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.