Avoid These 10 Traps When Measuring Your Success

Success Golden Key - Public Domain image courtesy Animated Heaven on Flickr

When work for someone else, they give you a job description that usually lists the things you are required to do. If you’re fortunate, you receive on-the-job-training and you have a mentor or two. On top of all that, you have reviews at thirty and ninety days at first, then annually. All those things help you be successful. The smaller the company, the fewer of these measures will exist. And if you’ve turned your creative outlet into a business, a source of income, you are on your own. There are so many variables for each creative outlet and each individual person, it’s impossible for anyone to say this is how you do it. Hobby or business, identifying what success looks like and how to measure it can be helpful. 

So, if no one can tell you how to succeed, how to measure or make your way toward success, what’s a person to do? While I can’t tell you what you must do to succeed, I can tell you what not to do. This series of blog posts will discuss the 10 traps to avoid:

  • No clear picture of what success is.
  • No objective or unrealistic objectives.
  • No strategy.
  • Projects are too big or too small.
  • Tasks don’t align with the strategy or project.
  • No system to track your progress.
  • An Unmanaged calendar.
  • No feedback.
  • No projects completed.
  • And no plan for failure.

Each of those traps could be a separate blog post. Instead, let’s discuss a few at a time every couple of weeks. Let’s dive in, shall we?

No Clear Picture of What Success Is

Many of us start a creative pursuit simply to enjoy it. Over time, your desires change. Your desire to enjoy morphs into our desire to share or to sell our product. We have a vague idea what that means: being able to quit the day job, financial freedom, fame, etc. Maybe you want to be as successful as Stephen King. But does that mean? Is it a million dollar advance, or selling a million books, or having your books displayed at the front of the bookstore?

How you measure success depends on how you define your business goals. In order to decide strong business goals, you need a clear picture not only of what success means to you, but of what your core values are. 

To compound the confounding nature of core values, you can have both personal and professional core values that aren’t the same. 

What are Core Values and Why are they Important?

Core values are a set of beliefs, ideals, and practices that guide you in your actions and decisions. They can be both conscious decisions, as in “I value my family,” and subconscious, such as fear of rejection. No matter if you are aware of the core value, it guides what you do, say, and how you act day in and day out.

Still unclear on what core values are? Common ones include Adventure, Authenticity, Autonomy, Balance, Compassion, Family, Integrity, Innovation, Growth, Kindness, Patience, Persistence, Quality, Recognition, Satisfaction, Service, Wealth, Wisdom, and many more.

How do Core Values Relate to Success?

Unrecognized core values can conflict with your dream of getting that million dollar advance. If you have young children, your core value of responsibility and relationships may outweigh your core value of commitment to write. 

It is extremely difficult to move in a direction that opposes your core values, much less find success pursuing a value you don’t believe in. Not only difficult, it is detrimental to your emotional health and personal satisfaction.

To discover the core values that will help you succeed, there are several questions you need to ask yourself.

  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are your most treasured memories?
  • What makes you angry and why?
  • What did you parents believe? Do you believe those things?
  • Does the type of work you want to do align with your personal and professional core values?
  • Does the culture of this creative area align with your core values?

Learn more at The Berkley Well-Being Institute among other online mental health sources. 

If you skip this part of your business development, your business will lack a stable foundation. In other words, your “house” will be built on sand instead of rock. This isn’t exclusive to people who want to turn their creative product from hobby to business. Knowing what your core values are, will inform you that it’s okay to simply enjoy your creativity as a hobby. 

No Goals or Unrealistic Goals

After a stable foundation, your business needs goals like a house needs supporting walls. What is it you want to accomplish with this business? Fame? Fortune? Fun? 

Whatever you want, it’s okay. It’s okay to want to make money. It’s okay to want to be famous or have fun. Your overall goal can be enormous and long term. But the wanting of something isn’t the same as a goal you can work toward. 

Too often, we set goals that someone else has control over. Remember our goal of being as famous as Stephen King? It isn’t a smart goal. How do I know?

When defining and refining your goal, ask yourself if it is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. (Yup, that’s a S.M.A.R.T. goal. )

To check if a goal is a smart goal, you need to ask yourself a lot more questions. 

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Why?
  • Who must act to accomplish this?
  • Where will this be done?
  • Which resources must you have? Skills? Time? Money to invest? Equipment? Other?
  • How will you know when you have accomplished this goal?
  • What can or will you do to accomplish this? What won’t you do?
  • Does it seem worth it?
  • When?
  • Is it achievable in that timeframe? 

Your over-arching goal now can be the “architectural plan” guiding you as you determine short term, medium-term, and long-term goals. Remember to create both qualitative and quantitative goals. And remember, goals can change. You gain new skills or simply have a new want, so your goals change. It’s a good idea to make a habit of re-evaluating your goals at least once a year. 

No Strategy or a Poorly Aligned Strategy

A strategy is a set of high-level principles that guide decision making and the allocation of resources. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? No wonder most creatives don’t think of creating a strategy for their creative lives. Yet without a strategy, you’re likely to make decisions that wander according to your whim and don’t actually help you achieve your goals.

Make sure your strategies are in alignment with your overall goal and your core values. Missing that alignment for all or only one will make it more difficult to achieve your goals or may send you in a completely “wrong” direction.

You can learn more about what strategies are and how to creatives can make strategies that align with their goals on Creative Boom. 


As a creative, you might find all this business-speak overwhelming. I know I did. It’s okay. Step outside for a moment. Take a deep breath. 

Would it be ideal to have all this figured out yesterday? Probably. But who among us lives in an ideal world? None of us. So learn and implement these pieces of advice at a pace that works for you. 

In two weeks, we’ll discuss the next few traps when measuring your success. 

Do you measure your success? How or what do you measure?

Read Part 2.

Image Credits:

Top: Public Domain image courtesy Animated Heaven on Flickr

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