Four Foundations,  Parenting

Define Success for YOUR Kids?

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox points to th...
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To say that I learned a lot in the course of becoming an indie author and publishing What Kids Need to Succeed would be an enormous understatement.  The lessons from a rapidly and radically-changing publishing field were not unexpected.   But after more than two decades in human services, I was an experienced interviewer with an ear that had been tuned to hear what wasn’t being said. I was not prepared for early conversations that took place as the book’s structure was coming into focus.  Many of them held the edge of a challenge, asking with a sort of a chip on the shoulder, “Yeah… but how are you defining success?”

I’ll admit to not knowing how to answer.

I’ve had lots of discussions, conducted interviews and participated in a lot of debates on the topic. I read and re-read transcripts of interviews. What I discovered was startling.  I was surprised that many people assume that wealthy people define success strictly in dollar terms or that authors do so by the number of published titles or book sales. The “lightbulb” was so obvious that I almost missed it.

There are as many definitions of success as there were people interviewed.  I “got it.”  Successful people take responsibility for their own definitions of success.  Success for Red Sox slugger David Ortiz might spell disaster for a researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute… and vice versa.

Eventually I was able to complete the book in the same manner I conducted my practice with clients:  I do not define success for you.  Instead, I chose to share definitions from interview subjects, famous people and some great quotations on the topic.  My goal remains to support parents — not to take over any part of your job, including taking responsibility for the way you choose to define success either for yourself or for your child.

I don’t get to define you into (or out of) your aspirations.  Nobody gets to have that power, except you.  When we compare our insides to other people’s outsides perhaps it means we are ignoring the role that making choices plays in our lives…  but, tell me honestly, do you really care if your oncologist can hit a high fastball?

Let’s connect on social media.


  • Chara

    I believe that children need to grow up with compassion for themselves, other people, and the plants, animals and other life forms with whom we share the planet. Success, in my view, is founded I compassionate action, sharing, service to others, and service to one’s self-development.

    • Andrea Patten

      You make an important distinction. Compassion is important… and a powerful force when coupled with action/service. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Debra Oakland

    What I care about is what in in your heart. Are you kind, loving, are you happy with your chosen path. No one can take that power from you unless you allow it. Take who you are and create your best version of YOU, that shines for all the world to see. Remember, the children are watching and learning!

    • Andrea Patten

      I agree, Debra. I’m not sure there’s anything more powerful than the kind of example you described. Who wouldn’t be drawn to be around (and learn from) that sort of person???

  • Sheila Callaham

    For me, it all boils down to love and acceptance. Love is understood. Acceptance is more complex. I believe that parents need to be open that kids are growing up and redefining everything around them, including the definition of success. As a parent, I’ve got to stay open to that and never waver in my love and my belief that whatever they do, so long as they are giving it their all, I’m happy. 🙂

  • Peggy Nolan

    Andrea – I absolutely LOVE this. I decided to stop listening to what other people thought success looked like for me. F-’em. I get to make it up as I go along. And part of my definition of success includes an overflowing bucket of happiness. If I’m not happy on the inside, success is pretty much pointless.


  • Deanna Heiliger

    I think this nailed it on the head, “Successful people take responsibility for their own definitions of success.” Success is such a personal yard stick. As a parent I try to instill character traits that will mark success, and they do not include money or trophies…more like how we treat people, how we care and love!

  • Carmen

    Great posting and an important book. So many youth are suffering these days from lack of compassion, lack of loving boundaries, lack of being taught values. Love and values and spiriual guidance are important for children.

    • Andrea Patten

      Thanks for taking time to comment. It’s so hard to find the balance between important personal values and the skills needed to share those things with the world.

  • Mary

    Andrea, you have certainly made a very interesting point in this writing. Success in your life is what matters to the individual. It is not about this , that or the other things. it is about creating a life that you feel well in and it becomes an extension of ourselves if it is based on our own authentic values. It becomes an energy that young and old will be attracted to because it is based on your own values of respect for yourself and your world.

  • Shann

    I believe that loving kindness and compassion are the most important teachings to model for my young teen daughter along with trusting herself. My husband and I are teaching her to define success for herself. I’ve seen too many young ones try to live up to their parents expectations, only to figure out as adults that their personal goals were not really personal at all. We hope to help our child set her own bar and rise as high as she wishes to fly.

  • Laurie Seymour

    Andrea–I remember in my early years as a parent, comparing myself to my husband in terms of “success” as a parent. I was buying into a model that didn’t fit me and wasn’t true. A dear friend pointed out to me the limitations of my model. That opened my eyes to a whole new picture of myself, who I was and what I had to offer to my daughter. What the heck is success anyway? That seems to me to be a way of looking at oneself from the outside / in instead of from the inside / out.

  • lynne

    Hi, this is really very informative. I read a book that says, ” Highly successful people are unconsciously doing little things that lead to big results” and I believe it’s true, if on the right path and given the right tools will lead us to success. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sherill

    Success is not measured in terms of others. I believe it is based on your goals, dreams, aspirations and your potential and how you used it to get there or achieve it!