Success or failure?

By David Joel Miller.

Are you a success or a failure?

Success and Failure

Success and Failure

Men and women seem to understand success and failure differently. The kinds of things that most men see as successes and failures are different from those experienced by women.

I know those old gender stereotypes are not always true and things are changing, but when it comes to issues of success and failure the problems that bring men and women to the counseling room are usually different. Men in counseling may say they are not very successful. They want to be more successful. Women rarely say that.

When men say success they mean money or accomplishment.

Men talk about not being successful in terms of money, income, being a good provider for their family. They also think in terms of accomplishment. Men feel good about themselves when they win a contest, are famous at some sport or activity or because of education and promotions, they assume a position of authority.

It doesn’t always have to be about the money, it can also be about the position or the activity. A pastor, priest or director of a nonprofit may not make a lot of money but they can think of themselves as successful if they are able to see their organization accomplish its mission. If they feel that the role they fill is important.

Women worry about relationship failure.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to see their therapist because they perceive that they have “failed.” They report they have “failed” at marriage or “failed” at motherhood. Traditionally men and women have evaluated themselves differently.

Men think they need to have things.

Men are most likely to evaluate themselves based on what they have or “are.” They have a nice house, they drive a new prestigious car, they have a good-looking “trophy” wife. Lacking a lot of expensive toys a man can still feel good about himself if he believes he “is” something worthwhile. He can be poor and still have “status” if he is a priest or pastor, a doctor or a professor.

Women tend to evaluate themselves based on their relationships. They can feel like a success if they have good children who love them. The love of their husband is likely to be more important than his income. Women have told me they don’t care if they have to live in a car as long as they know their man and their kids love them. Now clearly there are materialistic women just like there are men who are more motivated by love. But overall women may look for a man who can be a good provider for them and the children, but having made their choice they are most likely to feel they are successful if the relationship is going well rather than if he sends the money home from a place where he lives with someone else.

In therapy, people get a chance to take another look at their understanding of success and failure. They decide just what they need to do to feel successful and they learn new skills to move to the position of feeling good about themselves. Sometimes they discard the yardstick they have been using to measure success and get a new understanding of what success and failure mean to them.

Whether you feel like a success or failure then is not all about the money or the relationship. It is mostly about the yardstick you are using to measure success or failure. How do you measure your success or failure? What would you need to have or accomplish to feel successful and what are you doing to get there?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


3 thoughts on “Success or failure?

  1. Pingback: The road to success or failure | David Miller, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

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