Photo of rainbow winking face manhole cover by Yuyang Liu

Who Defines Success?


That’s the response I got from a friend after I announced we were closing our custom screen printing business in February 2023. We had been in business for a little over ten years. For a two-person operation, we had a nice chunk of the apparel printing market in Southern California for many years. In fact, our niche being vegan clothing brands, we were a highly sought-after option for people who wanted not only a vegan product, but appreciated the owners being vegan as well. So why close?

For one, screen printing is a lot of physical labor. There’s the repetitive process of printing, of course, but there is also a lot of heavy lifting involved. While I feel like I’m in excellent physical health right now, the day-to-day production process (not to mention pickups and deliveries) was starting to wear on my body. My shoulders would scream at me. “Please, please just be late on this order, just once, pretty please, we promise we’ll never ask again!” And of course that was a bold-faced lie. But I like my shoulders and I indulged them by not taking on any new customers.

Second, I wanted to transition into doing more web and IT support work. I still love screen printing as an art form, but I am also a tech nerd. Debugging, coding, and maintaining computers and websites feeds my soul. Plus, I’m not tied to one location — I can do my work from anywhere in the world.

So, in late 2022, we started making plans to close up shop. It was actually an exciting time. I made the announcement and for the most part, people congratulated us and wished us well.

But for some, it was seen as a “sad” thing. For them, closing a business was considered a failure — something you do with your tail between your legs, on the verge of bankruptcy, with a landlord ready to evict. For us, it was a road opening up to a glorious new adventure (that’s not just spin; we had no creditors or a landlord, we were just fine).

That one friend’s response made me realize that we all have widely varying ideas of what constitutes success.

It can be hard to justify your own personal definition of success in any area to friends and family who sometimes mean well but just don’t get it. They can’t help but bring along their own fears and failures and try to apply them to you. It’s particularly challenging with social media to maintain a sense of self-worth and confidence in the path you’ve chosen. From spammy ads that say you could be skinnier, driving a Ferrari, or sitting on the beach doing no work at all to people who only post their most perfect selfies, it can start to chip away at even the most confident person’s self-esteem (yes, I was talking about me).

In our screen printing business, there were a lot of people who said we could grow much faster if we had a retail location and employees. They weren’t wrong, and my shoulders would have heartily agreed. We could have scaled up and had multiple automatic presses filling a warehouse, with twenty employees doing the hard labor. They were right, but that’s not what we wanted. That was not our definition of success. If we did those things, we would have been bigger and made more money, but we couldn’t have been at home with our kids and we probably would have been on the hook for some hefty business loans. We would have had to work longer hours and be responsible for the care and well-being of our staff.

Just being “bigger” didn’t define our vision of a successful business. It wasn’t our path.

As it was, we did very well with our marketing. In fact, after a few years we rarely had to go looking for work — it mostly came to us. In the best years we did about $85K in sales, and that was all the work we could physically handle. We did all of this out of our garage and it worked really well until we decided it wasn’t what we wanted anymore. We were happy with it until we weren’t. Then we let it go with a feeling of satisfied gratefulness.

I hear a lot of folks these days exclaiming, “I’m not gonna grind anymore, I’m going to slow down and do only what I’m excited about.” I think that’s wonderful. On the flip side, if someone wants to “grind,” “get that cheddar (does anyone say that anymore?),” or they’re building something big, I think that’s great, too. Go for it.

Success for any of us can only truly be defined by our personal goals, wants, and needs. If we try to squeeze ourselves into anyone else’s definition of success than that really would be… sad.

Photo by Yuyang Liu on Unsplash


Did you enjoy this post? Subscribe privately in your favorite RSS reader!

Right-click the icon to copy the link to my feed.

RSS logo

Or, sign up below to get updates and exclusive content sent to your inbox:

Oh hi there 👋 It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive new content in your inbox, at least every month. Maybe a couple of times.

I don’t spam! I’m vegan.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *