Determination: Finding the Feeling of Success

by Jennifer Paros

July 2014

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.

~ Helen Keller


I’ve always thought of determination as a fierce mental decision-making stance, witnessed in a kind of stand off between my desire to lie around and my desire to get up – with the getting up part winning. Determination seemed like victory of will - moving me through space and time up that mountain. There is definitely gain to be had through a focused, unrelenting pursuit of accomplishment. But though determining to do something can move us forward, determining to feel the essence of what we want to create allows the feeling to inspire and guide ideas and actions in an easier way.

Jonathan Adler is a potter, designer, and businessman with 26 stores worldwide. In his talk, “Keep Other People’s Opinions out of Your Creative Process”, he explains the way he learned to focus expressly on his passion for clarity in creating his business. In thinking about the underlying message of his work, he knew he wanted to share the feeling of “Happy Chic”. Once having acknowledged the intended spirit behind his drive, he realized he could make all kinds of things in keeping with that intention, leading to greater expansion than he’d ever imagined. For Adler, the key was recognition that the feeling of what he wanted to create was a trustworthy guide. He declares strategy unnecessary for success – saying he had “no real plan beyond following [his] passion”.

Determining our emotional stance before taking action is a valuable tool for all areas of our lives. I heard the story of an old woman who, after the death of her husband, had to move from her house of many years to an apartment. The person assisting her the move described the old woman’s new, much smaller place, in the hopes of helping her acclimate more easily upon arrival. After the description, the old woman said, “I love it!” Her helper pointed out she hadn’t yet seen it, but the old woman was determined to decide how she wanted to feel and the experience she wanted to create ahead of time.

Lots of things happen in the course of a day and there is something to be said for tuning the instrument through which all of these seemingly random things occur - in other words, us. We are the instruments through which our experiences pass, are measured, assessed, labeled, and judged. We’re like little walking factories that process everything and sell it back to ourselves.


. . . Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly . . . Take the power to control your own life. Take the power to make your life happy.

~ Susan Polis Schutz


“He’s obviously a great dad.” “She must be ill.” “ These pants are weird.” We assess and label and then have reactions to our own stories. We are powerful in this process, with the capacity to determine our emotional climate, designing the way we experience our lives. Like the woman who was facing a big move, we can know better than to leave our mood and experience up to our reactions to conditions in the moment. She decided to feel good ahead of time in order to help her see the good; she knew the benefit of loving her life unconditionally.

Mainly, I’ve thought of determination in terms of an achieving model; I hadn’t really considered being determined to love. But a definition of success that doesn’t include happiness and love doesn’t have value. When we begin with a resolve of feeling, that determination naturally sorts choices and opportunities and helps us meet up with what we most want. A project that grows from this clarity is one that grows easier and with greater power.

Determination is commonly associated with never giving up in order to reach success, applying our will to make ourselves continue against all odds. But action is less labored when determination is applied to feeling; and the feeling doesn’t have to be figured out or made to happen - it is already within us. It is the soil that can grow all kinds of things we want. It is the drive behind every creative project, every undertaking. The feeling calls us both inward and forward; it is why we want to do things; it is the inspiration behind what turns “work” into creative, joyful expression. And it is our opportunity to live from an internal place of personal success even before the public success comes.


Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at

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