Define “Success” Wisely, Please

Steven Barnes
3 min readMay 18

Cheo Hodari Coker spit so much wisdom yesterday that I can’t wait to go over the transcript and isolate specific bits of wisdom.

One thing was how hard John Singleton’s death hit him. “Twenty five years of movies and he was fine. Three years of working in television killed him.”

Specifically, lack of sleep, and massive stress. Cheo revamped his personal schedule, and now considers running to be a primary part of his day, and makes enough sleep a “must.”

You have to define “success” to include your relationships and health, as well as money or career accomplishment. Once you have defined it carefully, you should be able to “take off your brakes” and go full-tilt boogie without concern for hurting yourself. That means a concrete, measurable goal in EACH of the three arenas.

MEASURABLE. Not a feeling or vague statement like “enough.” But

I will run the Boston Marathon in 2024

I earn 120k in 2024

I have “date night” with my wife every week, and an hour with my kids every day.

MEASUREABLE. One part of our brain (often, the artistic part) works on feelings. The other works with clear, measurable goals.

Other measurable goals would be weight, or hours of sleep, or intermittent fasting three days a week, or calling a friend every day, or writing three pages six days a week. MEASURABLE.

And if you know your own nature, you should be able to predict pitfalls. So if you tend to run yourself ragged without sleep, it is CRITICAL that one of your goals be 7–9 hours of sleep a night. You might look at mentor figures in each of the three arenas (health, career, relationships) and determine what they are doing. Default to safety: if a “career” model brags about only getting five hours a night sleep, you need to “filter” that and find a healthier model. You can follow their advice on organization or strategy, but NOT their advice about rest. They may be programmed to die at fifty. Or have divorce after divorce, or never see their kids.

Be careful. Aim at BALANCE. Now, it is true that from time to time we have to throw ourselves out of balance to accomplish something important, but ALWAYS be looking for the way to get back in line. Know that this cannot be normal and natural, but something you are doing because of emergency. And if your emergencies pile up, you want to ask “why?” and solve THAT problem.

Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.