How to Be Successful When You Are Depressed

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We all want to be successful. But even though we share the same desire, we all differ in our skills, mindsets and opportunities. All these factors make our paths to success different, unequal and perhaps even unfair. And the challenge is even greater for those of us that have to deal with depression.


I have always been very ambitious, goal-oriented and visionary. I would often set my sights on grand goals, dreaming of ways I can make a positive and lasting impact on the world. But little did I know that the grandeur of my goals would be matched by that of my challenges.


It is often the case that we first have to battle some monsters in order to earn the castle and the treasure in it. And most people have to fight with some insecurity, critics and obstacles in their quest. They fight with courage and then they succeed. And when they do, they celebrate and bask in their glory.


But for those of us that are depressed, that quest is much more complicated. We do not simply have to face a few obstacles every now and then, we have to live with greater obstacles all the time. That’s because our obstacles are…well, us. Surviving and thriving while battling depression requires a never-ending, soul-crushing endeavor. It makes you wonder if you may be the reincarnation of Sisyphus himself, cursed to always try to do the impossible over and over again.


Yes, it sounds sad and painful and depressing and it is. But, like many others, I have tried to find a way to be successful despite my inner struggles. I have read article after article and book after book trying to learn how to be successful. And even though I have found some great ideas, nothing seemed to work – for me, at least. Some insights and ideas did help me, but nothing seemed to be enough to help me really become successful. Then I realized that when you are depressed, many things are different for you. And this goes for success as well.


Since I could not find a proper guide for people like me, I have decided to write one. In this article you will find a few of the main ideas and changes that have helped me do more and reach for more in my life. If you can identify with my struggle, please read this article and give it a try. I know that some ideas may seem too simple, but the truth often seems that way. I encourage you to use this information and help yourself achieve more – we both know you’ve been dreaming of that for far too long. Do not wait anymore. Let’s begin!

Step 1: Redefine success

I know that success is usually defined by some form of milestone or achievement. You are successful when you are promoted, you start your own company, buy a house and so on. This is a good and sensible definition, but I want to propose an even better one. It’s the definition that I have learned from Earl Nightingale and it goes like this:

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”

I have heard this idea a few years ago and it profoundly changed the way I think about success. This definition rings true and is much more empowering. Success should not be defined by the singular moment when you reap the benefits of your hard work. If you have a good goal in mind and you are working for it, then you are successful. If you are doing something for that dream today, you are successful. You do not have to wait for years to pass to feel successful.


I think that this is a much better way of thinking about success, especially if you struggle with depression. That’s because depression is challenging in so many ways. It takes a lot of your energy, time and desire. It can seriously delay the achievement of a goal – even if you are working on it as much as you can.


But when you measure your success this way, you can feel confident, proud and motivated to keep working even if you do not see the results right away. It allows you to be happy for the little steps you are taking every single day. And this will get you much farther.

Step 2: Set a big goal and start small

It is true that depression can slow you down or hold you back, at least temporarily. But this does not mean that you should give up on your ambitions or sell yourself short. On the contrary, you should hold on to that dream you have because it can pull you out of your depression and into the happiness you so desperately yearn. However, you should do things the smart way. Take your weakness into account and adapt to it.


Set a big, exciting goal for yourself. Don’t try to scale it up or down. Just think of a goal that matters to you. Make sure that pursuing and reaching that goal is good for yourself and those around you. Choose a goal that pushes you to grow. I think that smart people set goals for the pursuit, not just for the achievement of them.

“Set goals for what it will make of you to achieve them.”

Jim Rohn

Aiming for something that helps you learn more and develop your skills will contribute to your happiness more than a million dollars. But if you aim high and fail, you will feel disappointed and defeated. That’s why I think you should start small and take things step by step.


For example, if your goal is to create a website with movie reviews, don’t aim to have 10,000 visitors in the first month. If you have no skills for writing, photography or marketing, this is very hard (if not impossible) to do. Start by thinking about what type of website you want to have. What would be your message? What will you write about? How do you want it to look? You can start by thinking about these questions and looking at the websites that inspire you. It’s a good idea to learn about the people you admire and are successfully doing what you want to do.


In time, with enough dedication and hard work you can achieve a lot. It’s a good idea to always keep your big end-goal in mind. This will inspire you and help you stay on track. But it’s very important to take it one little step at a time.

The more you do the little things, the more you will believe that you can do greater things.

As your skills develop and you gain more experience, you will feel more confident and get closer and closer to your goal. You will set bigger and bigger goals for yourself and you will surpass your challenges more easily. You may be crawling at first, but you’ll be soaring in the end.


Step 3: Make a plan

Any goal begins with a dream. But no dream can be achieved without a plan. So once you have your goal in mind, think about what it entails. Sit down and ask yourself these questions to help you get started:

  • How can I achieve my goal? What are the possible scenarios?
  • What skills do I need? What skills do I already have? What skills should I develop?
  • How have other people achieved this goal or did something similar? What can I learn from them?
  • What are my strengths and how can I use them?
  • What are my weaknesses and how can I manage them?
  • What tasks do I have to actually do?
  • What should I do every day/week/month?
  • What do I want to achieve in the first month/year?


Remember, these questions are meant to guide you. If you already know enough about your goal that you can make your plan, feel free to ignore them. If you cannot answer any of these questions now, it might be a good idea to do some research first. Don’t be afraid to start if you have no idea how you can do this. Just accept that you have to learn a lot and start looking for the information that can help you get started.


You do not need the full plan to start acting. You just need to have a vague idea of the direction you are headed towards. Think about this: if you want to drive from your city to another city, you do not have to know every road you will take before leaving. You just need to know where you are headed and which way to go. You can use a GPS, a map or ask for directions on your way. And you can do this while pursuing your goal as well. Find out where you want to go and get ready for a life-changing trip!

Step 4: Start acting

Having a big dream is not enough. You have to work on it to make it come true. You have to give it your time, your energy, your work, your faith for it to take shape. And even though dreaming about it is easy, putting in the work may be hard at times. Maybe the hardest thing to do is to start.


If you are depressed, you may stop before you even start. If you allow your negativity to drown your ambition and your hope, you will never get started. You will think that you have no chance and convince yourself that this is hopeless and useless. But I am here to tell you that it is not. That’s just what your depression is making you think.

As dark clouds of smoke prevent you from seeing what is in front of you, depression is blinding you to what is inside of you.

No matter what you sometimes think and feel, we both know that you care about your dreams. If you wouldn’t, then you would not be here reading this article. We both know that you deeply desire to make something of yourself. You know that despite your pain, you think that you deserve to feel happy and proud of yourself. You think that you should have a chance at living your dreams and achieving your goals. And I’m here to tell you that you do.


You just need to start. So once you have your precious goal in mind, ask yourself: what is the first and easiest thing I could do? And then go ahead and do that. I promise you that doing something as small as reading a book, deciding to make your own website, joining a gym or signing up for an online course will take you a long way.


Do you know why? It’s because that first step will take you to a place that you will never want to go back from. It will take put you on the path towards your goals. And even if you will sometimes stop to catch your breath or feel like running backwards, you can never take that back. All the steps you take, all the work you do, all the things you create will stay with you forever. They will live as monuments in your mind to remind you of your power and your desire to rise above who you are. They are statues – not of the past, but of the future. Make those first steps and start building yourself up.

You’ve set yourself up for failure so many times. It's time you start setting yourself up for success!

Now, you and I both know that depression can make us do crazy or foolish things. And sometimes, it will make you fail. But that’s a good thing because this is the next step!

Step 5: Fail

I can guarantee that one day you will fail at something. You’ll start procrastinating instead of working. You’ll lose faith in yourself and think about giving up. Or you’ll want to stay in bed forever because you can no longer remember why your goals matter anymore. I’ve done all of these. You will do them too or you will fail in your own way.

And let me tell you that if you are not failing in any way, you don’t want to reach your goal badly enough.

So failure is inevitable – for everyone, including (or especially) those of us that live with a permanent shadow we call depression. The best thing you can do is to accept that. So what if you fail? You make a mistake, waste some time or embarrass yourself. We all do that!


Now, when this happens you will be tempted to make it even worse. You will feel guilty, say that you are an idiot and convince yourself that you will never be successful. We both know that those are all lies you tell yourself. And since you know that, please do not believe them.


When you fail, it’s alright to feel embarrassed or ashamed – for a while. The best thing you can do is accept your failure and feel responsible for it. Do not drown in guilt and self-loathing, but rise above it with respect towards yourself and hope for the future.

Step 6: Remind yourself of your goal

While working on a goal for a long time, you will often need to stop and remind yourself of it. This is very helpful after you fail or when you are low on motivation. So when you need a bit more faith, think about what you are trying to accomplish.


Reflect on the reasons why you wanted to achieve this in the first place. Visualize what will happen in the future if you keep working on your goal. Think about all the ways in which you have and will develop. And look at how far you have come and what you have done so far.

I was always exhausted and worn out!

If you want to, you can also write this down. Make a list of the reasons why your goal matters to you. Or write down how working on this goal will have a positive effect on your life. After all, a good goal will change you and your life for the better.

Step 7: Get back at it

Sometimes you will do less than what you have planned. Maybe it’s because you are not feeling well, you are discouraged or you need to learn how to do your tasks. Or sometimes it simply takes longer than expected to complete a task. Other times you will need to take a break to focus on other pressing or important things in your life. Maybe you have to move or you are traveling with your family/friends. That’s alright. Life happens.


As soon as you can, go back to work. Do not try to make up for the time that has passed. Do not force yourself to work 20 hours a day even if you are less efficient because you’re exhausted. Don’t try to achieve the impossible to make up for missed deadlines. Remember that success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal. It’s not the making up for missed work. You are successful if you are working on your goal – that’s it.

Step 8: Continue until you succeed

When we read about success stories, we think that people created great products, wrote best-selling books or made history in one night. That’s because the media glorifies the singular moments that represent the peak of someone’s work, not the years of preparation and hard work that lead to that moment.


As you are making progress towards your goal, you will see that some tasks tend to be repetitive and unimpressive at times. It’s part of the process. If you want to succeed, you simply have to continue working. As you improve and you make progress, you may change the way you pursue your goal. You may do things differently and come up with new strategies. If you can be creative in this process and make it more exciting and efficient, do that. If you find new and better ways to do your tasks, do that. But the most important thing is to keep working.

If you know what you want to achieve, you have a plan and you are constantly learning and working, you will be successful.

Yes, it may take you longer and you may need to start again a few times, but you CAN be successful.


Step 9: Celebrate and start again

You did it! You have set a great goal, you have learned a lot, improved your skills, worked hard and achieved your goal. Now you deserve to celebrate. Take a moment and enjoy your success. It was a bumpy road and maybe you got lost a few times, but in the end, you proved yourself that you can achieve your goals. Take that, depression!


My advice would be to celebrate in a smart way. I wouldn’t recommend getting drunk or spending a lot of money on a shopping spree. I would suggest celebrating in a smarter, more meaningful way. You can go out with friends and family for dinner, take the vacation you’ve been thinking about and share your accomplishment with the world.


Still there is an even better way to celebrate: set a new goal! That is perhaps the best gift you can give yourself. And when you have come this far, you will see that having a goal and working towards it changes you and your life very much. It builds your confidence, makes you feel in control of your life and increases your life satisfaction and happiness. You may be surprised to realize that your depression is now a thing of the past. I wouldn’t because I’ve already experienced that. But it is possible to get so caught up in your goal-achieving activities that you have no time to be depressed anymore. You will look back and suddenly notice that you have let your rock at the foot of the mountain and decided to climb it with no burden to drag you down.

If you go through all these steps and keep at it

I can guarantee that your life will improve tremendously. Success is not just about success. It’s not just about checking a goal off a list and getting a certain result, it’s a way of life. If you are depressed right now, I hope you will have the courage to apply these steps. In doing so, you will achieve the highest level of success by rising above who you are now, working on yourself and creating a better, happier and more meaningful life for yourself.

I believe that we all deserve to be successful and happy.

And I want to help you achieve that. This is the reason why I have written this article. In case you need more help to overcome your depression and choose happiness in your life, get my book “Happy by Choice”. It will help you let go of negativity so that you can find true happiness!

Are you interested?

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