Pursuing the Path to Success

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Pursuing the Path to Success

Imagine yourself at the pinnacle of success in your career and in your personal life. What does that look like, and how does it feel? Success is the achievement of a goal, which comes as the result of hard and focused effort. It is a relative term—your success will be different from mine, as we all have different goals and desires for our lives. No two journeys are the same.

Success, specifically in higher education, can take on different forms depending on the student's goals and aspirations. For example, one student mentioned that while getting her degree was amazing, the personal growth and overcoming of obstacles were transformative experiences that boosted her confidence in her own abilities. This, to her, is a true success she can carry with her every day. Many of our students say they developed and gained more self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and cultural competence through their learning, which is considered a true success. It’s life-affirming!

As for my family, we have our own individual goals and pursuits of success. My husband, a successful 7th & 8th-grade math teacher, aims to encourage his students to be responsible and respectful members of their community who will shape this world for the better. Success for my 14-year-old daughter, who embodies kindness, creativity, and a love for life, is pursuing her passions in singing, performance, and other interests with enthusiasm and dedication. She already believes success is not just about personal achievement but also about bringing joy and happiness to others.

I’m constantly working on my personal success, as well as encouraging my students and those around me to pursue their own success. Along my journey, I’ve learned to focus on the following things:

  1. Setting Goals
    You probably know by now I’m big on finding my “why” and always keeping it in focus. My “why” is inseparable from pursuing and measuring success. If you don’t know your “why”—your reason for setting goals and following your dreams—then it will be difficult to keep the pace and stay the course. Try making a list of the reasons driving you toward success. Write them on a notecard or sticky note so you can be reminded when you need it the most!
  2. Reflecting on the Past
    I often say you can’t move forward without remembering how far you’ve come. I encourage my students to take a moment to think about how they arrived where they are today. Perspective is gained when we make observations about our surroundings, habits, successes, and failures. I ask them to take note of the steps they took to achieve their goals, and to find ways to keep applying those steps every time they go out and do something else.

    I try to remind my students that their degree may get them in the door, but who they are—their personality, goals, habits—gets them the job and allows them to thrive where they are planted. So don’t forget where you came from, what it took to get you there and the growth and development you achieved along the way. Finally, and perhaps most important, celebrate those successes! Celebrating big and small victories helps cultivate a success mindset, giving you the desire and confidence to keep up the hard work.
  3. Modeling Behavior
    One of my goals in life is to inspire others so they will go out and do the same thing, creating a continuous cycle of change and success. I hope to change the community around me, one person at a time. The formula I follow is somewhat simple:

    Model behavior » someone follows » they grow and change » repeat

    I’m constantly thinking of ways I can model behavior and encourage those around me. When I first joined higher education, I was always looking to my mentors. But at the same time, I was pulling people with me, encouraging them to jump in and learn from those around us. I try to coach people upward, encouraging them toward success. You can’t go wrong by surrounding yourself with people who are pursuing success and who want to model, grow, and change along with you.
  4. Open communication
    Communication goes hand-in-hand with success. Open, healthy communication promotes clarity and freedom. Miscommunication (or no communication) encourages confusion. I’ve found if I create an atmosphere that fosters open discussion with those around me, we are less likely to make assumptions or become upset. Find ways to consistently meet with your people to discuss goals and to-do lists. Be in regular conversation—make that the norm!

    Take time to lay out your expectations with your people, whether it be your co-workers, friends, family, students or anyone else in your circle. Make expectations clear and easy to follow. You will find that healthy and clear expectations will kill any assumptions that try to destroy progress.
  5. Feedback
    Feedback is a funny thing. Love it or hate it, feedback has proven to be an effective tool for encouraging growth and development. Feedback given in a constructive, positive manner will inspire accountability. It will allow teams to work more effectively towards their goals.

    At the same time, it’s important to be open to receiving feedback. Take it in, do some reflecting and figure out the best way to apply it. And remember, all of us are a work in progress!

Put it into Practice

I love the big rocks analogy Stephen Covey uses in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this analogy, he talks about using sand, pebbles and rocks to fill a jar. Sand represents the small things we do throughout the day, such as laundry, checking e-mail, walking the dog and preparing meals. Pebbles signify things we love to do but aren’t crucial to success, like hobbies, book club, watching our favorite TV show and reading a book. Big rocks are the bucket-list items—our goals and dreams that are crucial to our success and happiness—including work goals and initiatives, travel, living a healthy lifestyle, spending time with family and friends. The jar holding these items symbolizes our life.

We get to decide what our sand, pebbles, and big rocks represent. What are your priorities, and which ones are the most important? Take time to make a list of your daily tasks, as well as your hobbies, goals and dreams. Then, label each one as sand, pebbles or big rocks.

If we start filling the jar with sand and pebbles first, the things that potentially weigh us down, we won’t have room for the big rocks, the things that give us life. But if we fill our jar with big rocks first, the sand and pebbles will naturally fill in the cracks around the rocks.

Put the big rocks on your calendar before sand and pebbles start to take over. Once you have the big rocks prioritized, fill in the gaps with sand and pebbles. If you follow this method, you will soon find that you have time for all your priorities—big and small! The purpose of this analogy is to give us a focus point for pursuing success. It helps us look at our priorities and decide which ones are the most important.

What does success look like to you? Always remember your path to success is unique to you. My big rocks, sand and pebbles won’t look like yours, and that is okay! The goal is to keep moving forward, one step at a time, and success will inevitably follow.


Dr. Kristin Bledsoe is a leadership educator currently serving as an Academic Dean for the School of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is also an associate professor, teaching in multiple programs from associate to doctorate level, with a strong understanding of online learning, teaching and engagement. Kristin is committed to enhancing the student experience and overall student success. She recently co-authored and published an article on Mentoring New Online Graduate Teaching Assistance in Taylor & Francis' Online Journal. Kristin's most recent certifications have been as an Emotional Intelligence Practitioner and Cognitive Behavioral Life Coach. She recently graduated from Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association's (TICUA) Executive Leadership Institute.