You’re busy trying to live the American Dream, complete with house, kids, community involvement, and the perfectly manicured lawn. The details may vary, but thanks to Ward and June Cleaver, the picture is clear. Now, on top of the 1960s version of the American Dream, you’ve added your career as a busy professional or entrepreneur. It’s 2012, and you’re aspiring to have it all.

The truth is, in this day and age, “having it all” would take a lot more than the 168 hours allotted to each of us every week. Doing everything and being everything to everyone around you just isn’t possible. To achieve success at work while still maintaining balance with life at home, it’s essential to make some tough choices to determine what success means for you personally.

The Success(ful) Equation

Success on your terms equals the combination of four key elements: shining your brilliance, getting your needs met, expressing your values, and living according to your priorities. Your unique definition of success depends on what you plug into each of these italicized variables. Each of my clients and I invest hours exploring what forms her personal equation. As a result, each has a set of clear and achievable expectations for herself, and she recognizes when it’s time for her to celebrate her accomplishments. You need to do the same so you’re very purposeful with your time. What’s most important to you?

The Priorities of S-U-C-C-E-S-S

Begin with your priorities. Take the time to list all your current commitments. List your responsibilities to your family, business, friends, extended family, side projects, etc. Here’s a list of sample priorities to get you started:

Spouse/Significant Other


Current income


Equity ownership



Then, choose amongst them. Rank them in order of importance to you in this phase of your life. Imagine you could accomplish only one. What would it be, and why? What if you could add another one? What would it be? It’s not easy to choose among your longer list, but it’s a powerful process.

Realistically, you are able to focus on a maximum of five priorities in any one phase of your life. You are far more likely to succeed in your most cherished areas if you release goals for other ones. Releasing requires saying “no” to yourself and others. If you don’t decide your priorities deliberately, you will decide by default – and you may not be happy with the results. A failure to set limits for yourself guarantees frustration and disappointment, and a failure to recognize your best efforts will have the same effect. You have one precious life. How do you choose to spend it?

An Unsuccessfully Defined Life

Not defining success for ourselves, as individuals, can lead to burnout. Burnout can manifest as depression, health failure, temper tantrums, and even stress-related accidents. Defining success on your terms is essential for your mental and physical health. Knowing your personal limits and setting obtainable goals will lead to a sense of achievement, as well as optimism about future accomplishments.

Success: A Lifelong Triumph

As your life evolves — perhaps with the addition of a baby or the end of a relationship — reexamine your priorities. Remember, growth can happen in many areas. Which ones are most important to you?

Sometimes it’s difficult to accept that not every standard or goal can be met simultaneously. Defining your personal equation of success and strategically prioritizing will minimize the sense of overwhelm that naturally accompanies the pursuit of the American Dream.

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