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  • Stephanie Haynes

How to Help Your Teen Define Success for Themselves (and Why it Matters)




There’s a reason why today’s teens (and many of us) struggle with motivation: the pandemic removed the once-secure foundation of post-graduation planning. How do we combat it? We need a success re-set. Here’s how.



Post-pandemic, many of today’s high school students (aka our kids) are struggling to define success for themselves in an era where they realize their plans can be stripped from them without warning. They have watched as older siblings and friends have had their once secure post-high school pathways completely disrupted. As a result, many of our kids are now battling how to define success on their own terms for fear that they, too, might lose everything.


This, as you well know, is detrimental to their motivation and weakens their resolve to make something of themselves. It’s understandable, but frustrating and, if we’re honest, it’s freaking us all out a bit.


What our kids need (and maybe us, too) is a success re-set to encourage them to define success on their own terms and reignite the motivation they need to accomplish it.


This won’t be easy. But, like all worthwhile endeavors, our perseverance in working patiently with our teens will pay off.


How do we start? We recognize that it’s easy for teens to become overwhelmed thinking about life after high school, especially since our culture seems to want them to define it as early as middle school. What I believe we should do instead is help them start by defining what success really means to them before we ask them “What do you want to do with your life?”


Why define success first? Because that’s what we are all after, yet we rarely take the time to define it beyond “make good money, have a house, get married…” which almost any career can help us achieve. Is it any wonder teens have a hard time identifying a potential career path when this is their only definition for success?


Instead, taking the time to define success for ourselves inspires teens to take risks, work hard, and change their mindset, which are all vital in developing a life that matters.


How do we help today’s teens define success on their own terms? Here are my 5 steps:


Acknowledge that failures are an inevitable part of success in any post-high school option or career you choose.

Success doesn’t happen without failed attempts. In fact, if you don’t fail you aren’t sure of success. Why? Because we only learn from our failures. When we fail, we are forced to adjust, recalibrate, restart, and try again in a different direction. The more we fail, the more we learn about ourselves and the world around us, which helps to shape the direction we want to take to build success on our own terms.

Recognize that building success after graduation takes time.

Success doesn't happen overnight. True success, the kind that leads to dream-fulfillment, passion-development, and even financial reward takes time. If you rush to create the kind of success you want you will miss out on what’s going on around you right now. If you sit around and wait for success to come to you you miss out on the necessary growth that will lead you to it. Look at where you are currently, identify where you want to go, and take the next best step you can think of to get there.


Understand that building success for yourself will make you uncomfortable.

Success doesn’t happen without getting out of your comfort zone physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. Why? Because success can’t happen without growth (otherwise you would have the level of success you want right now, right?) and growth is, by definition, uncomfortable. Whatever you are comfortable with today will eventually stand in the way of your success. In order to achieve the success you want in life you will have to step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be in huge leaps, one step at a time is enough, but you must keep moving forward.


Identify what success will cost you.

Success isn’t free. It takes effort, hard work, hard choices, and even financial investment. It will require you to work towards it every day. Your investment however is the foundation for your return: the harder you work, the more you choose your dream over distractions, the more you invest in yourself, the greater your chance at success. It may feel hard, but just start; the effort will diminish as you experience forward momentum towards success.


Define success on your own terms, not based on what others believe is possible.

Success can’t happen for you unless you define it for yourself. The world will try to tell you what success should be. Your parents will try to tell you what they think your success should be, and so will your friends. But you must define it for yourself, otherwise you are wasting time trying to fulfill someone else's vision of success rather than your own. It will take courage to define success for yourself, and a willingness to not let other people define you.


“Knowledge is not power. Implementation is power.” Garrison Wynn

In order for any of us, including today’s teens, to move forward we each need to identify what kind of success we want. When we start here, the pathway to implementation becomes clear.


For more on this, please check out the other blogs I have written as well as my latest book, College Is Not Mandatory: A Parent’s Guide to Navigating All the Options Available to Our Kids After High School.


Don’t want to do this alone? Check out the custom post-graduation planning experiences I offer for teens and educators.