Unlocking the Meaning of Success

Stacey Robertson, President of Widener University
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What is success? It turns out, this is a deeply personal question with a range of answers that will likely change over the course of a lifetime. 

Success might mean the satisfaction of tangible accomplishments like obtaining a degree, getting a promotion, or buying a house. Success might also be defined through personal growth, emotional well-being, or giving back to one’s community.

Head shot of President Stacey Robertson
President Stacey Robertson

How to Define YOUR Own Success

Defining your own success begins with introspection and self-awareness. Take the time to reflect on what truly matters to you and what brings you joy and fulfillment. Consider your values, passions, and long-term goals as you embark on this journey of self-discovery! 

Here are five guidelines I find helpful:

1. Identify Your Values

Start with your core values. What sits at the heart of personal meaning for you? What drives your decisions and priorities? Is it authenticity, compassion, faith, justice, love, learning, peace, or something else? Once you determine your values, you can think about what activities or subjects align with those values. This will help you in the process of choosing your path. 

2. Set Personal Goals

Define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that are meaningful to you. Let's break this down:

  • Specific: Goals should be crystal clear and well-defined. Rather than vaguely aiming to "improve academic performance," a specific goal could be to "achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher this semester" or "complete all assigned readings and submit summaries on time for every class."
  • Measurable: Progress should be quantifiable to track achievements. Instead of setting a goal to "read more books," a measurable goal could be to "read 20 pages every day" or "finish five books by the end of the semester."
  • Achievable: Goals should stretch our abilities but remain within reach. Aspiring to "learn a new language fluently in a month" may not be quite as feasible as you would like but setting a goal to "practice speaking for 30 minutes daily to speak conversational within six months" is more reasonable.
  • Relevant: Goals should align with our values, interests, and long-term objectives. If career advancement is a priority, setting a goal to "complete a professional certification relevant to my field within the next year" would be both relevant and beneficial.
  • Time-bound: Goals should have a deadline or timeline for completion to create a sense of urgency and accountability. Instead of a vague goal to "travel more," a time-bound goal could be to "plan and take a trip to a new country within the next six months."

Success, then, is not merely the attainment of these goals but the journey of growth and self-discovery along the way!

3. Focus on Personal Growth (and embrace failure!)

Success also comes through striving to become the best version of yourself. 

Challenges push us out of our comfort zones, and force us to adapt, innovate, and grow. Embracing failures allows us to bounce back stronger, wiser, and more determined. Striving to become your best self means setting high standards, pushing your limits, and continuously seeking self-improvement.

Success is not about comparing yourself to others, but about surpassing your own expectations and fulfilling your potential. It's about becoming the person you aspire to be and making meaningful progress toward your goals.

4. Find Fulfillment and Happiness (though expect low points)

Success is more than reaching milestones; it’s about embracing a holistic approach of cultivating positive relationships that nourish your soul, engaging in activities that ignite your passion and bring you joy, and maintaining a sense of balance and well-being in all aspects of your life

While you aim for success, don’t forget to soak up moments of joy, foster connections, and lead with a sense of purpose that fuels your spirit!

Remember also that we all experience periods of sadness, grief, and anxiety. These are normal emotions that will come and go in life. 

5. Focus on What Truly Matters (flourishing!)

President Stacey Robertson and student trustee Ijjae Hill in a hug.

In a world cluttered with distractions and external pressures, it's easy to lose sight of what truly matters: your well-being, relationships, and personal values. It’s essential to prioritize these things as you navigate life’s path. Success isn't solely about reaching a destination; it's about living authentically as you savor the journey. 

By nurturing your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, fostering meaningful connections with others, and aligning our actions with our core values, we can navigate the complexities of life with purpose and fulfillment. Success, then, becomes not just an endpoint to strive for, but a way of living.

For me, being a part of the Widener community is one of my greatest joys. But a successful life also means making time to connect with family and friends, getting outdoors to enjoy nature, savoring a good book, and unplugging from electronics. Daily mindfulness exercises are central to my well-being, as they help me reflect on all that I have to be thankful for, all the good the university puts into the world, and all we are accomplishing together.

Remember, your success can only be determined by YOU. Be intentional as you pursue a life of meaning and joy. I am so eager to see you flourish!! 

Stacey Robertson is the 11th president of Widener University, and is passionate about inspiring a culture of belonging at Widener, where students, faculty and staff thrive in an atmosphere of caring and mutual respect.