Define Your Success

Define Your Success

Define Your Success


Define Your Success


In the wake of the great recession I have been hearing a lot about the American dream and how it has become unattainable.

Clients, students, and supervisees talk about how they will never be as successful as their parents, that they are under tremendous stress and are being left behind, caught in the red tape and obstacles of corporatization or the overburdening of government regulations and oversight, depending on one’s perspective.

But, behind the idea of the American dream, what is really being discussed is the idea of success.

Separating out our common needs for shelter, food, and water, success beyond basic Maslow’s hierarchy is an idea. More specifically, it is an idea that is constructed by the society in which we live.

Those things that constitute the ideas of success are a social creation and we are recruited into these ideas based on social expectations of what we are supposed to be, do, and feel to be seen as successful.

In the current environment of internet and television adverting, of reality shows and Facebook posting showdowns we are surrounded by messages of what success should look like and ways to measure how much “success” we have relative to those around us and vice-versa.

It seems that there have been times in our history when a larger number of people have felt more successful than people do now.

Perhaps, this is not due to the American dream being unattainable but rather due to the massive amount of changing information that is streaming to us everyday about how we are to be successful, coupled with the watchful eye of social networks like Facebook, email, Pinterest, LinkedIn and so on filled with supportive individuals who are also adept at determining if and how we are measuring up.

So, why am I mentioning this on a social work supervision website? Because how we as supervisors, our supervisees, our students, and our clients come to understand success matters greatly to our general wellbeing and pointing out to others how the social idea of success is created and how technology can enforce these ideas can be extremely helpful for us to realize that it is we who can decide whether we feel successful and we can do so on our own terms.

This is certainly not to minimize experienced pain, injustice, and disappointment, but it is to say that we can choose how we see ourselves when dealing with obstacles.

I know this sounds glorified, but think about it. The moments that you are most proud if in your life probably do not involve money or material things. They most likely involve connection with others, accomplishing goals, helping or reaching out. They are moments unrelated to traditional notions of material success.

Supervisees in particular need to have the discussion about how success will be understood for them. Is it a social work license? Helping a client? Applying something new? Is success to be understood as a very large accomplishment only, or a series of small and consistent accomplishments that eventually sum to something larger?

Helping others to first recognize the overwhelming influence of the social idea of success and then to help them to define their success in their own terms, can be tremendously empowering, liberating, and can assist others to cultivate a freedom of self.


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J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

Chris holds a PhD and LCSW specializing in clinical individual and family therapy. He is a researcher, educator, practitioner, and supervisor with over 16 years experience. He has published chapters and articles in peer reviewed scientific journals and is an active scholar on the effectiveness of clinical practice.

June 5, 2014


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