In my post last month I referenced three different definitions of success. Here is the short version of the three definitions:

  1. The outcome-based definition
  2. The process-based definition
  3. The identity-based definition

If you read that post, you know I applied these definitions to the half-marathon I was planning to run on April 25. I noted that many things could prevent me from being successful based upon definition number 1. One of the things that I wrote is that there are many things over which I don’t have control—one of them being injury. The day after I wrote that, just after 4:00 am, I went out for my run and tore my calf muscle. Major setback. There was no way I could recover, get back up to speed in my training, and run that half marathon. Success was now impossible (great example of a wrong belief).


I followed the advice of my physical therapist and started a new process (see the second definition of success). By the next week I was walking normally and able to sort-of return to my training, That Saturday I walked nine miles just to keep up my training. Over the next week I added a little more very light jogging but kept my mileage up. The Saturday after that I half jogged, half walked ten miles. By this time, the corona virus had created all kinds of disruptions to our lives—including the cancellation of the April 25 half-marathon. Success again was impossible (another great example of a false belief). It was another major disappointment. Yet the quest for success was not over.

I kept training based on a new process, and based upon my identity as a person who doesn’t give up and identifies as a runner (definitions 2 and 3)

A few Saturdays ago, I walked out my door and ran 13.1 miles, (okay, more like slow-jogged). I checked the records from last year—I would have taken sixth place in my age division. No one was there to celebrate at the finish line. I got no awards. Heck, I didn’t even get a t-shirt. But I didn’t need any of that because I wasn’t limiting myself to one definition of success.

It is very likely that we will not be having an alumni mountain climbing event in the Adirondacks this summer as I had promised. Our dates had been chosen: July 31 and August 1. But a lot has changed in the last two months for all of us. We are recalibrating our lives, our plans, our work, our projects. AND, we can still be successful in this time—both personally and professionally. 

I’m going to keep training like I’m going to summit those three peaks with you at the end of July. Who knows? Maybe we will end up being able to summit Mount Wright, Algonquin Mountain, and Iroquois Peak—the Macintyre Range in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

Or maybe the process of having some basic healthy routines in our lives will be what makes us successful. Adversity shapes us, but more often than not, it reveals things about us. 

We have no parallel for what we are facing right now. We may or may not get the OUTCOME we want.  \But we can choose a great PROCESS for how we start our day or how we take care of ourselves or our organizations, or how we respond to the anxiety of others. We can choose to live out of our beliefs and values—our IDENTITY. We can be successful.

In that way, we can look back on this, regardless of outcome, and enjoy the success of a life well-lived in the midst of setbacks, disappointments, fears, changes, and yes, SUCCESS.

Below are the exact words I wrote to close my blog post almost two months ago. Word for word, before COVID-19 really hit us, this is what I shared:

Let me be clear: I set metrics and goals all the time. They give me a target and propel me forward. They motivate me to keep my eyes on the prize. I love the outcome-based definition of success. But I’ve also learned that only having one definition for success is insufficient. Success is also following a great process, and success is also being true to who I am.

I would love to be successful in all three categories. But I’m going in to April 25 knowing I am already successful in categories two and three. And that is exactly what frees me up to give my all to being successful in category number one.

Lead on,

Image by Christian Collins. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.