Success, mostly.

It is Dog Agility Blog Action Day. You can go here for more posts on the topic of Success.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for several weeks now. Weirdly, my step dad asked me last night at dinner what my definition of success is. Despite having something in mind for this post, I struggled to answer him.

There is a theme here I would like to pursue, but in that moment, when asked what success meant to me, I said openness, vulnerability, releasing anger. Things I am not very good at. Things that, for me to access, take a lot of work and energy (right now). Weird answer.

I suspect that at least portions of our definitions of success may reflect the things we struggle with, the things we are forced to chew on, the things that don’t come naturally. We see another with these qualities and we pause, we take notice. We carry on, the ideal image of our lives or ourselves at the forefront of our minds. Until it’s not, anymore.

It is easy to get on the self-loathing train, but it is just as easy to get on the self-righteous train. I happen to have both tickets stamped — I do not think I am in the minority.

My aunt, I recently found out, years ago completed her dissertation on the Pygmalion effect, that the higher the expectation placed upon someone, the better they will perform. The backbone behind the idea that seeing someone in a positive light can allow them to see themselves this way, as well. She actually found some very interesting stuff in her research that supported this effect, and its opposite — the golem effect. That’s important. The golem effect warns that seeing someone as incapable, unqualified, bad, less can have a limiting effect on performance (existence?).

So, labels. I do this.

  • I am very shy.
    Now that’s blatantly wrong, but that’s what I was told for a long, long time. Old example, really.
  • Rev is a very fearful dog.
    Ooooh, that’s a bit dangerous too, Tori.

We seem to get these ideas about ourselves, each other, and about our dogs into our heads. And we stick to them. We speak through contracts, using specific terminology or sentence structure depending on who we are conversing with, or conversing about. We lower our expectations with certain individuals, we raise them with others. We sentence ourselves and those around us to one way of living.

I can set goals all day long, and I can chase them all day long. I can fail, learn from it, and move forward. But the lens, I think, is key.

I am me, which is to say, not you. I have my tendencies, but deep down in my core, I know I am not limited in my exploration of the world and participation in life because of who I am. I am strengthened by it. So I am not convinced we are stuck on a certain path, or in a certain pattern. Ever. Shadow and light, both exist — but turning toward the light is always an option.

And our lights may be different, but… that is the point.

Success is a lot of things. In this space, today, success is facing the label, the failure, and carrying on anyway. Challenging it despite the pain or embarrassment or fear. And facing it head on, again and again, continuing onward to find your truth and to grow. Never settling for who you are “supposed” to be, whether that label is dangerously ambitious or slyly destructive.

And never forcing another to settle, either. Allowing those in your presence to be their true selves, both human and canine, and loving them for it.

I have a lot of strengths, but they do not negate my weaknesses. I have a lot of weaknesses, but they do not negate my strengths. Each is a part of me, an important part. And each will continue to change, and change, and change, and change. As long as I am brave enough to embrace my truths.

Photo by Tammy Moody

Also Brave has a weird affinity for stainless steel bowls. It’s loud.


  1. Tabitha says

    When I looked at the list of blog posts earlier and didn’t see yours, I was disappointed. Fantastic post. I think you hit the nail on the head AND got to legitimately use the word “brave” without referring to Brave, but maybe still kinda referring to him.

  2. says

    Tori – thanks so much for this thought provoking essay! Thanks too for mentioning the Pygmalion and Golem effects I completely forgot about those! You made me think about how they affected me in agility training. I noticed that when I trained agility with people who strive to improve themselves and their dogs and who eagerly tackle new challenges the whole group dynamic encouraged everyone try to do the same. I soon thought: “sure we can learn and do that too!”

    Unfortunately, I also encountered groups where they embraced the status quo and people were discouraged from trying new approaches, where change was discouraged. I’m so glad I’ve embraced the former and the people who are eager to tackle new challenges and risk “failure” on the path to their vision of success.

    You also made me think about words and labels; and you made me think that while words and labels have power and we can also use words to empower each of us. We can choose our own labels to describe ourselves and our dogs to shape our own futures; our own visions of success.

  3. says

    What an awesome, well thought out post. I’ve always hated labels, especially as they almost always lead to reducing very complex, fascinating subjects into things that are easy to dismiss. Thanks for the great reminder to keep my eyes open to learn and understand.

  4. says

    I posted on your facebook page but want to follow up here to thank you for your honesty and wisdom, Tori.
    Something about what you said about labels and language reminds me of how powerful language can be. My experiences have shown me that words can empower me. And they can also harm and define reality in ways that can short circuit healthy growth.

    Thank you and (((Hugs))),
    Ms. Linda

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