Reframing Success: Mini-Goal Celebrations


by Norissa Williams

A psychologist friend of mine—who I have increasingly come to admire for his tenacity—was sharing a bit of the first phase of his career development journey with me.

One blind to the behind-the-scenes lives of pre-tenured professors—in tenure track positions—might not imagine how real the pressure is. While it isn’t quite the trading room floor of the New York Stock Exchange, it isn’t a walk in the park either.  There are pressures to teach, write, publish and secure grants in a short amount of time—never mind having a personal life.

In relaying the challenges of this academic grind, the good doctor shared with met that in his office he kept a canvas with paint and brushes. With the submission of an article, a proposal, or a grant, he paints a stroke of color on the canvas.

“Hmph! Intriguing!” I thought. Here was a spin on a recent post of mine about getting the most out of life by enjoying the process. Notice, commemorating paint strokes didn’t come after being awarded a grant or article submission—which is clearly the end goal—but strokes came with the acknowledgement and celebration of effort, while in “process,” or on the way to his desired goal.

We don’t do that enough.

We often wait for some kind of external validation before we celebrate—or see the value in—the things we’ve done and learned en route to our goals. In a capitalist society, we’re socialized to think in terms of “product,” not, “process.”

What would happen if we more readily celebrated ourselves and our efforts along the way?

Weight Watchers has it built into their system. You don’t have to get to your 15 point weight loss goal to celebrate. If you were shrewd and disciplined enough to have refrained from weight inducing food intake during the week, you’re rewarded with a few delectable points with which you can splurge on foods of your choice at the end of the week. I’ve done it before. Not only does the success feel good, but celebrating my steps in the journey made me feel like, “Look at me! I can do this.” In addition, it serves to self-correct in real time. Too much blankness on my friend’s canvas motivates him to get back on his grind—to fill up that canvas.

It’s probably not Weight Watchers or tenure-track professorship aspirations for you. Maybe it’s finishing school, writing a book, watching your toddler grow or something as seemingly simple as making friends. In either scenario I encourage you to see value in all of it, not just accomplishment of the end goal. Sure, be productive. Have high standards, but focus on the quality of your effort—not solely numeric measures of success.

In addition to seeing the canvas as a concrete way to celebrate effort and mini-goals, we can also think about this painted canvas as a metaphor for life. The many abstract colors that will fill this canvas—though they represent blood, sweat and tears—also represent how beautiful our lives are if we step back, not looking solely at individual strokes, but the collection of strokes that exemplify the many wins of our lives.

[info_box type=”alert_box”]Caring for yourself including takes care of your finances.  I encourage all ladies who are serious about self-care to go on The Happy Finances Challenge. In 42 days you can learn to make money decisions that will lead to long-term financial happiness. [/info_box]


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