The Women's Journal

Steps To Success

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By Fred Dawson, 

Author, Entrepreneur

As a woman in today’s world, what can you do to stay true to yourself and be successful?

There’s no “one size fits all” prescription. But there are certain essentials that will put — and keep — you on the path.

Define success on your terms

Decades ago, Thomas Merton pointed out, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

Define success for yourself. Don’t take anyone else’s word for what you “should” do or achieve.

Manage your inner critic

The inner critic is that little voice inside telling you that you’re not qualified, it’s too big a risk, and what will “they” think if you go for what you want.

Waiting for the inner critic to shut up before you take action means you’ll wait . . . a long time. As in, forever.

Don’t be like the hospice patients Bonnie Ware cared for and wrote about in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Their number-one regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Develop tenacity

Don’t fall for the motivation trap. 

Motivation is great when it’s around, but it’s a fickle creature. It will desert you in a heartbeat, whether because of a “life happens” event . . . or just because you’re tired. If you depend on motivation to keep you going, the most you can hope for is advancing in fits and starts; at worst, you’ll find your life littered with half-begun, unfinished endeavors.

Take advantage of motivation when it visits, and develop tenacity, dedication, and persistence for the times between.

Pivot when necessary

There’s no shame in deciding that a particular path isn’t what you expected or wanted. 

With self-awareness and sound judgment, you’ll know when a lack of enthusiasm is either your inner critic speaking, or a drop-off in motivation — in which case, exercise that tenacity! On the other hand, it could be that you’ve stumbled onto someone else’s path (someone else’s definition of success), or discovered that what you thought you wanted wasn’t exactly it.

Re-aligning and re-focusing based on experience and new knowledge is smart, not wishy-washy. Don’t let your internal (or external) critic tell you otherwise.

Grow your trust circle

Speaking of external critics — do your best to eliminate them from your life, and if you can’t, make sure they’re not part of your inner circle of trusted friends.

Wise counsel and the occasional metaphorical shove from someone who understands you is one thing. Critique from people who may love you, but don’t have your big picture or deep desires in mind, is something else. 

Choose your friends and mentors wisely, and develop the discernment to understand when they’re justified in calling you out and suggesting a different direction, and when they’re not.

Accept the twists and turns

You’ve probably seen it on social media: the happy upward graph of “what we think the path to success looks like,” and the twisty-turny tangle that represents the actual experience.

Roadblocks and surprises are part of the process. Don’t mistake them as messages that “it wasn’t meant to be” or that you’re headed in a wrong direction.

Keep going. Ask your trust circle for advice. Exercise your tenacity. And remind your inner critic that it’s not the boss of you.

Connect with Fred on LinkedIn @fredjdawson to discover how he empowers your steps to success. 


Fred Dawson is a writer, musician, businessman, speaker, and community leader. The author of the series Pearls: Women Who Radiate Success, Fred celebrates successful women who have found satisfaction after years of work, struggle, or discrimination. Inspired by his mother, whom he describes as “fiercely determined,” Fred donates the books’ proceeds to the Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit awarding scholarships to women who wish to transform their lives through education but lack the means. The third book in the Pearls series will be released this spring.


“Whenever I need to be inspired, I pick up one of Fred Dawson’s Pearls books and read the stories of the women leaders he features. Powerful stories of challenge and triumph. Stories that help me be braver and more fearless about my work. If she can do it, so can I.” ~ Sharon Kelly Hake, CEO, Great Dames, Inc.