I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes success over the past couple weeks. We are barely out of the crazy month of May. Full of graduations, recitals, awards assemblies, field days, and a plethora of other school-year-ending and summer-beginning activities. "May ain't for sissies," a friend of mine said recently. True dat.
So as I sat in the pouring sunshine at the recent state track meet, I began to ponder success. All these high school kids from a myriad of schools, competing in any number of events, and only one will win each race. Yet is that the only success sought after? To be first, fastest, strongest, highest? I don't think so. There is much to be celebrated here. On that day, my own son was not even running. Yet he had a very successful track season, even though his time did not qualify him for the elite competition. He set several goals for himself and attained every one. Before the season began, he pre-decided what he was going after and worked hard toward that end. He beat his PR (personal record) in almost every race. That is such a huge accomplishment. Ultimately, his team won the state championship, and he celebrated along with his teammates. Because his own first-place finish wasn't the only way he defined success.
Pre-decide is a concept we talk about occasionally at our house. Recently, during a rousing game of Uno, my 8 year old rebutted an informal rule change because "we didn't pre-decide it," he said. I realized then that perhaps we use the term more than occasionally. As I explain to my kids, the way we get to success is through the process of pre-deciding. You must pre-define success for whatever the situation. What do you hope to accomplish? What is an end point you can truly reach? What is worth celebrating? Then you pre-determine the steps to get there. You don't wait until the opportunity arises. You don't wait until a decision is required. You don't wait to see what you feel like doing. No, you pre-decide the what, the why, and the how. Then you commit to do it. That's how success is achieved.
Now take note. Just because I know this and talk about it a lot, I don't always do it. Not long ago, I went to work with a poor mindset. I didn't really want to be there and was hoping the snowstorm would roll in sooner than expected, leading our clinic to close early. Well, the snowstorm didn't arrive until much later in the night, and the clinic was just as busy, if not more so, than usual. I was miserable, complaining, and sour to everyone working with me. By not pre-deciding to have a productive and pleasant day, I essentially pre-decided to have a disagreeable one. And I succeeded.
The processes of pre-deciding is applicable to every area of life. Every task, every situation, every season, every person, every day.
You can define one success as gaining knowledge - or relaxation - and pre-determine to read more this year. Then you pre-decide to turn off the screens every night at 9:30 to open a book (this is a pre-decision I have in my cart but need to fully commit to).
You can determine healthy eating to be a success. Then you pre-decide your meals, your macro-nutrients, your store list. You pre-decide to drink a certain amount of water. You
pre-decide how often to eat out or look ahead at the menu to pre-decide your choice. You don't wait to see if they have water available or what you feel like eating. No, you pre-decide. That's how you get to success.
You can even pre-determine to be joyful. Isn't that incredible? Once you define joy as your success point, then you pre-decide the people you will spend time with and the conversations you will have. You pre-decide what shows you watch on Netflix, thereby pre-determining your thoughts as you go to sleep, and ultimately empowering yourself to wake up more cheerful. You can pre-decide your words and attitude at work. It doesn't matter if the job or environment or compensation or colleagues are pleasant or not. You are still the one who chooses what to say and how to act - which will ultimately determine how you arrive home at the end of the day. You either make a path to joy, or you make a path to misery. Either way, you pre-decide - even if you don't do it consciously.
My husband, Chad, and I are both very goal-oriented. We have pre-decided many things in our individual lives and careers as well as in our marriage and family. Many years ago, we pre-decided to have a marriage-centered family instead of a child-centered family. So we choose to do regular date-nights, spend time away together, and set boundaries around children sleeping in our bed. We don't make choices that are hurtful to anyone, and there are exceptions, of course, but my kids know that Daddy is my favorite (because - I remind them - one day they will leave home, but he is sticking around).
We know that our kids will take on the values of the people they spend the most time with. So when our kids were little, we pre-decided that those people would be us. And we make decisions accordingly in terms of what activities they are allowed to participate or which events they can attend. We pre-decided what we expect in behavior, in school performance, in helping at home, in relating to other people, in purchasing things they want, in owning a phone or a car, in their sibling relationships, in paying for college. We pre-decided all these things and more because we determined many years ago how we want to define success in our family. Ultimately, our children will make a lot of their own decisions in this regard, but we will do all we can to prepare and point them in the right direction. And we will occasionally - or perhaps more often - remind them that they also get to pre-decide their way to success.
The most wonderful part about intentionally pre-deciding where you are headed and what you want to accomplish is the many opportunities to celebrate along the way. When you are truly moving your life toward the destination to which you aspire, then every step in that direction is something for which to be incredibly grateful.
So over the past couple weeks, I took a few minutes to be present in my day and to celebrate the successes I noticed. May I share a few?
Winfield High School's championship win at the state track meet came down to the final event, the 4x400 meter relay. After the relay team finished and knew their accomplishment secured the state title, the runners met the rest of the team at the gate for cheers and celebrations. I didn't take this picture, but I love seeing my son in the middle of celebrating someone else's success. For it is in so doing, we often celebrate our own. This picture is the epitome of a true team.
My oldest son left last week for a summer internship. He will be leading volunteer groups for 8 weeks in the Appalachain region. He is doing well in college, and I am certainly proud of what he has accomplished there. But as I walked past his Bible on the kitchen table, it made me pause. This. This is what I want for him. It is what I have always wanted for him. A relationship with God that exists outside of church on Sunday and despite not being in the presence of mom and dad. This bible with its worn and ragged edges is the first thing he carries in when he arrives home for the weekend. He once asked me to ship it to him when it was accidentally left at home. I can celebrate that, right?
Gardening is something I often think about but have never been good at. I have secret dreams of doing a back porch salsa garden one day, but it isn't a pre-determined goal yet. However, I am celebrating the beautiful purple irises which bloomed this summer. My neighbor shared the bulbs with me a couple years ago, and I appreciate her guidance in nurturing them. Little by little, I am learning to plant flowers that thrive within the reality of my abilities. I pre-decided what I could actually commit to growing, and now I get to enjoy what blooms from it.
And this. This is definitely worth celebrating. I have spent more than half my life with this guy. We checked off 23 years of marriage this month. We pre-determined many years ago that we wanted more than just a marriage that lasts. We want a marriage that thrives. One that is fun. One that is constantly growing. And one that makes us each better. We pre-decided the steps to make that happen, and we refresh those every so often as needed. Our goal is not just to "make it" to 50 years. Our success will be to do it well.
Choose your own success.
Then pre-decide how to get there.
Then follow through and make it happen.
And be sure to pause long enough to celebrate along the way.