Most of us likely identify success as relatively major life events such as graduations, marriage, learning to drive, getting a new job, making a large purchase, or accomplishing a life-long dream. Sometimes, however, both for our own benefit, and for the benefit of those with whom we live and work, we need to define success on a more minute scale. Daily successes can also be identified and celebrated!
Viewing life through this new perspective, how might we define success?
- Initiating and sustaining a conversation with a new acquaintance
- Joining an activity or discussion on the playground, in the classroom, or in the workplace
- Playing a game or conducting an activity by someone else’s rules
- Staying calm through an unexpected transition
- Finding a new way to teach a difficult concept
- Making eye contact, and using this skill to gauge emotions or gather other information
- Giving an appropriate compliment to a parent, spouse, teacher, student, or colleague
- Completing a task on time
- Trying a new food or activity
- Waiting patiently until it’s our turn (whether it’s in the classroom, at the dinner table, or in line at the grocery store)
- Dropping a bad habit, even for a day
- Anticipating another person’s needs, and offering to help
- Overcoming a fear, however insignificant or irrational it may seem to others
- Finishing a race, whether we come in first, last, or somewhere in-between
Did you happen to notice that all the examples of success in the preceding paragraphs have one thing in common? It’s my personal belief that true “success” is generally achieved only through the ability to be successful socially! When I speak to groups of parents and professionals, I often challenge them to think of a way they could achieve “success” without any social interaction. I have yet to hear one such example! (Note that this does not mean that others always help us achieve success. Sometimes we are successful in spite of difficulties or interference caused by others—but that is still a highly social scenario!)
This makes our work of promoting social insight and understanding even more crucial. All too often, some individuals, including many with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), experience a chronic lack of success in their lives. Some of this is due to their difficulties with social interactions and the other challenges inherent with their diagnosis. Yet some of their perceptions of failure are also due to our own imposition of grandiose definitions of success! When we define success as major life achievements or events, we become easily discouraged when faced with a lack of ability or accomplishment. We worry when a child isn’t potty-trained by a certain age, we despair when a young adult isn’t yet driving, hasn’t secured employment, or isn’t living independently, and we fret over a host of other milestones that have not yet been reached. While these may be valid concerns, in defining success this way, we miss the opportunity to show others where they are being successful each and every day, just through the efforts they invest in navigating the social world.
A New Year brings many new opportunities for success in the home, school, workplace, and community. In fact, 2015 holds 365 days full of opportunities for success! I hope we’ll all take time to acknowledge—and to delight in-- our own daily successes as well as those of the people around us. I’ll hope you’ll also take the time to write to me to share some of your success stories!
One last thought…several years ago I received a Page-A-Day Calendar for Christmas. One quote was very appropriate to share today: “Never fail to recognize the success in failure!” Sometimes the best lessons—and successes--are those garnered from our experiences with mistakes and failures.