How You Can Identify Your Own Idea Of Success And Avoid Comparing Yourself To Others

This week, Maggie is chatting with Bessi Graham, award-winning entrepreneur and co-founder of Benefit Capital. In this episode, they are talking about how to avoid living someone else's idea of success. If you struggle with comparing yourself to others and want to identify your own sense of success, this episode is for you.

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Bessi Graham is an award-winning entrepreneur with over 20 years experience working with business owners, governments, and large funding bodies to bring “doing good” and “making money” back together. From the grassroots of sitting in the dirt working with business owners in the Pacific Islands to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Bessi has seen it all and brings an unparalleled perspective on what makes change happen.

Working with people who have “made it” but haven’t found fulfillment, she helps them put their Time, Talent and Treasure to work in ways that align with their values and allow them to create a legacy they can be proud of. Bessi teaches people to quiet the noise of the demands and opinions of others and hear their own voice more clearly so they can contribute from a place of authenticity. She removes the frustration and pressure that comes from living someone else’s idea of success and replaces it with a sense of flow and fulfillment that can only come when you tap into the fullness of who you are and who you are becoming.

To learn more about Maggie and her coaching and speaking services, visit

The theme music is called Escaping Light by Aaron Sprinkle. The podcast artwork design is by Maggie’s dear husband, Dan Rader.


Maggie Germano 0:05
Hi, and thanks for listening to the money circle podcast. I’m your host, Maggie Germano, and I’m a feminist and a financial writer, speaker, educator and coach for women. I’m passionate about making personal finance less scary and more approachable so that women can improve their relationship with money and take control of their finances. Every other week, I will interview an amazing, inspiring woman to talk about the issues that impact our money, our health, our independence, and more. We will touch on the societal and structural issues that we need to work together to change and the actions that we each have the power to take in our own lives. If you’d like to learn more about me and the work that I do, visit my website at or follow me on Instagram @MaggieGermano. Thanks again for listening and I hope you enjoy.

Maggie Germano 0:55
Hey there, and thanks for listening. I’m your host Maggie Germano. And this week, I’m chatting with Bessi Graham, an award winning entrepreneur and co founder of benefit capital. In this episode, we’re talking about how to avoid living someone else’s idea of success. If you struggle with comparing yourself to others and want to identify your own sense of success, this episode is for you. Enjoy.

Maggie Germano 1:27
Okay, welcome, Bessi, thanks so much for being here today.

Bessi Graham 1:31
Thank you for having me, looking forward to the chat.

Maggie Germano 1:33
Me too. So let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Bessi Graham 1:39
So So I am a coach who works with established leaders that are really wanting to figure out how they can contribute in the world. But do that from a place of integrity and alignment of who they are and what it is they want to be part of. And then I also have a podcast that goes along with that called Both And with Bessi Graham.

Maggie Germano 2:02
That’s great. And how did you kind of find yourself in this work, especially with the focus of the people that you work with?

Bessi Graham 2:11
Yeah, so I’ve spent over 20 years, really in the space of what we would now call impact. So back when I started, it was called ethical investment, but has moved through that process of being an impact investor, myself and an entrepreneur, and working over that 20 years really with a focus on trying to help support and figure out what is the role of business in making the world a better place. I’m a big fan of business. And I think that it plays an incredibly important role. It’s not just government or nonprofits and charities that are doing good things in the world. But we’re all impacted, whether positively or negatively by business. And so I’ve really spent that 20 years focused on trying to create both the environments that allow businesses to do good and make money, which is my kind of passion in life, bringing those things back together. So trying to create the environments where business can flourish and really contribute. But then also do the work with business owners and entrepreneurs, for them to figure out what is that business model, that means they’re not just having this passion for a particular social or environmental issue, but relying on philanthropy or government to give them grants, but they instead have built a business model that is sustainable, and allows them to, as I said, before, bring back together those ideas of doing good and making money, because regardless of what many people say, around, you know, the business of businesses business, and it’s about profit making, that’s not actually the roots of where business came from. And it’s not the motivation of almost all business owners. So that that’s really been the focus for me over that time. And then the shift more recently, in the last few years into narrowing in and working more specifically with those leaders, on their own journey, if you like, is that I’ve seen in that time, that we can create and design beautiful business models, incredible interventions in the world. But unless we as the leaders and entrepreneurs running those businesses, and those organizations have done our own personal work and are really clear on what we’re trying to achieve and what drives us, so often all of that can fall apart. And so the focus for me now is to find those extraordinary leaders build and support them as an individual so that in their business and work in the world, they can be that really impressive impact if you like.

Maggie Germano 4:59
I love that And I love so much of what you said, you know, regarding how business, you know, you can, you can do good in the world while still being able to make money support yourself. Yeah, and because I think that a lot of people that I talked to especially I lived in DC for 12 years, and so a lot of the people that I worked with and just was friends with were, you know, either working for the government or working for nonprofits. And so there was this kind of idea that you only can do good through those sources. And a lot of those jobs are not very well paid. And so it’s like this, this dual understanding of like, I just, I’m not going to make very much money if I want to do good, and I have to be in these specific fields in order to do so.

Bessi Graham 5:52
Yeah, and that’s such a common thing. And, and I think, for me, that’s been the the driver over that 20 years to say, Hang on, let’s question that. Because we all just accept that, as you said, we have to make this choice. It’s work called my podcast, both end because everyone thinks it’s either or like, pick one, which are you? Are you trying to do good and contribute? Or are you trying to make money and it’s all about you. So that does not have to be the choice that we’re presented with? And questioning that. And shifting the mindset, in my experience is the beginning of actually opening up a much richer relationship with money and a much richer relationship with What does impact and doing good? What does that actually look like for you in your life and your work?

Maggie Germano 6:44
Yeah, no, I love that. And as a financial coach, myself, I guess, because you mentioned like business owners having to, you know, in leaders having to do some of that internal work in order to get to where they really want to be. And I believe that with money too, like you can have the best budget set up. But if you haven’t worked on some of the mindset, some of the behaviors that go along with finances, it’s not really going to be very effective.

Bessi Graham 7:12
Now, because it’ll be all of those unconscious things that you’ve either taken on through your childhood or through your career, that will then trip you up. And because you haven’t consciously brought them to the surface and said, Oh, do I actually want to accept that or question it, then it is much more of a blocker and causes problems than if you’re conscious of it and actually work through it.

Maggie Germano 7:37
Exactly. I totally agree with that. And so what are some of the stumbling blocks? You see, when leaders are making error setting goals and trying to measure success? Like, what are some of the mistakes you’re kind of seeing?

Bessi Graham 7:52
Yeah, one of the big ones, particularly if we focus for a moment on those that do have a real desire to be contributing in the world or doing good out there is that a big stumbling block is the assumption that my good intentions are good enough. So because I want to do good, because I would like to help this particular cause or these particular people. Therefore, whatever I do, automatically, that’s enough. So as I work through that, and start to set a goal, and then measure success to that, there’s not a level of rigor or holding accountable, hang on, am I actually trending in the direction of that outcome and actually achieving that? So the first piece is, is actually that, again, pulling apart of two different things and saying, it’s not enough to just claim or set a goal about wanting to contribute in the world, you actually need to pull apart what are the activities that are happening? How would I know if I’m creating that change? What does that look like? So that would be sort of the first piece. The second thing that I see all the time is, and we all have a tendency to to this, which is falling in love with our first idea. So you know, we set set a goal, for example, or something pops to mind, or we think, oh, I want to hit the six figure mark, or if you’re already at that, I want to hit the seven figure mark. So we set this goal of what success would be. And we fall in love with that and drive towards work really hard without stopping and questioning, oh, is that actually what I want? Or did I listen to a podcast or read an article and think, oh, they did that? That sounds good. And so we’ve kind of just latched on to something and then charged at it. You know, in that way we all do as entrepreneurs and leaders we we throw everything after our goals and work hard to achieve them. So that falling in love with something too quickly and not kind of questioning whether you really One, two, would be the second piece. And then probably a third one that I see all the time is, again, for those of us that are in that category of driven, ambitious, wanting to make a difference and do that, in big ways, is mistaking movement for progress. So again, it’s this pace of, I’m really busy, I’m doing all the things, ticking off the list, and, and there’s all this activity. And we unquestioningly, then think that that means we’re making progress. And I see this all the time in terms of then getting to a place where I interact with someone in terms of a coaching capacity, where they’ve been busy, they’ve been doing all of the things. But then when they stop and reflect, they’re like, oh, is this all there is like, this is not what I thought my life would look like, this doesn’t feel like what I thought success would feel like. So that’s a really important one in terms of, I think that’s very common, and part of the culture of people who are operating at a high level. And so certainly one for people to kind of sit with for a minute and question Oh, am I mistaking movement for progress? So they’d probably be three of the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.

Maggie Germano 11:25
Now, no, and those make a lot of sense. And that last one, that busyness piece really resonates with me, I think, not just for myself, but with, like many, many people around me that I see. It’s just like, everyone is always going, going going. And I just sometimes wonder, are we actually focusing on the things we want to focus on? Are the, all the things we’re busying ourselves, whether they actually getting us to where we want to be? Or do we just feel like we have to be doing things and kind of hustling part of that hustle culture?

Bessi Graham 11:56
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And that’s not to take away from, you know, I think sometimes if someone hears that, they think you’re then saying that, Oh, you should just be laid back and not working hard. Again, we’re not flipping between extremes. So we’re not saying it’s either or we’re saying that on its own, you can’t assume that the busyness and the hustle equals satisfaction or fulfilling life or success, you need to actually go a bit deeper than that, it may be that you are hustling and working hard in the right direction, and you will feel fulfilled. But it’s not a given.

Maggie Germano 12:34
Yeah, no, that that totally makes sense. And I think people probably do kind of look at things in the extreme. So it’s good that you mentioned that and that you kind of work on that with clients too, because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you know, exactly. And so, if there are folks listening right now who are struggling, you know, with kind of identifying their own sense of success, and what success looks like to them, because I know for me, if I’m on social media for two minutes, I’m seeing, you know, everyone else’s kinds of, you know, what they’re posting and what success looks like for them. And it can be really a struggle to kind of not compare myself to them to the point of like, getting, losing my own sense of success, and what that looks like to me. So how would you kind of help others identifying their own success? And what that looks like, rather than just trying to keep up with the people they’re kind of seeing around them?

Bessi Graham 13:32
Yeah, it’s, um, it’s an ongoing struggle isn’t, it’s certainly not something that that you address once, and then it goes away. I think, for me, the foundational piece in terms of really getting to a much richer understanding of what success might look like for each of us individually, is to start with core values. Now, when I say that, I know most people will roll their eyes, if if I’m in a work setting, or at a conference or something and people talk about values. That’s my initial reaction as well, because we’ve all seen things like values or leadership, integrity, lots of these words are so overused now that they’ve lost a sense of, of meaning or the the actual strength or power that they once had. But when I talk about core values, I’m not talking about it in that way that often corporates would would talk about, you know, there’ll be a poster on the wall with an eagle with its outstretched wings, and it’s, you know, integrity, you know, all of these big words, and you think, oh, what does that actually mean in the context of your business? So I’m not talking about it of like, let’s just grab some big words and call them our values. But it starts with core values in that really reflective process of going So what is it that actually I hold really strongly as both the drivers of my decisions and my behavior? So they are things that are already present. It’s not about sort of aspirational things, if I hope one day I will be dot, dot dot, but it’s saying no, what are those things that are already inherently part of who I am. And the reason why that’s important is that it’s a process that’s quite easy to then actually track and kind of look for examples in your your own life and work to see are these things that I’m already living out. And if they are, then the more clear you are on those things, the more you can actually become the decisive, efficient, effective leader that you want to be because when an opportunity is presented with you, you know, whether it aligns or not. So what I have found is that people who are really tapped into and clear on their own values aren’t just people who are wasting time, navel gazing, always just thinking about themselves, but they are people who have done that work. And now can act in the world in a really powerful way. And so I think that, that exploration of core values, which I won’t go into in lots of detail, because we could have a whole conversation about that. But the person whose work on that, that I love the most and use all the time is a man called Patrick Lencioni. And so any of his books are worth reading. Or if you just wanted to look at an article, there’s a Harvard Business Review article that he wrote, which talks about the way that he uses values in a number of different kind of categories. So that for me is the starting point, because any articulation you come to have of what success looks like for you, that is personal for you, not just latching on to other people’s idea of success needs to start with a reflection of your own your own values. And then from there, it really is that exercise to start to have a vision for what it is that clear sense of what does success look like for you. So I’m a big fan of visualizations and actually doing those exercises where you either think or write in the present tense as if something has already happened. So you’re, you’re kind of pushing yourself forward. And depending on how far you want to go, you know, it might be five years or 10 years, and really in detail thinking about what would that future state state look like? In an ideal world? How would you be feeling what would you be doing? Who would you be spending time with? And that visioning exercise allows you to start to get into some of the detail and think about whether something sits with you, because when it’s just a visioning exercise, you could run off in a few different directions. And then as you get into the detail, you might go, oh, that doesn’t feel as satisfying as I thought it would. Maybe I’ll run off in a different direction. So you haven’t spent that 10 years. But you kind of can do the intellectual exercise, if you like.

Bessi Graham 18:28
And then the probably, and I think I mentioned this actually earlier on probably the, the last piece that’s worth touching on is to not feel like this is an exercise that you have to do once and then it’s done. Because the reality is we are all always on a journey evolving and changing. And what you might articulate as your vision today may not still resonate with you in two years time, that could change. So just allowing that growth and change.

Maggie Germano 19:06
Yeah, all of that really resonates with me. Something that I talk about a lot, just generally, but also with my clients is that values piece too, because, you know, if you’re just focusing on you know, again, what the people around you kind of say you should do or value whether it’s with in business or in your finances or whatever. It’s not going to be very exciting or motivating or fulfilling if it doesn’t actually align with the things that you value the most. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I agree with you also that you something that you hold most closely now could be something that is not as important to you and five years as your life kind of shifts and changes. So allowing yourself to do those exercises as your life kind of shifts and changes and you grow into a different person.

Bessi Graham 19:57
Yeah, that’s right. Absolutely.

Maggie Germano 20:00
And so do you have any tips for folks who I know you I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that comparison is the thief of joy. And, you know, we kind of talked about this a little bit with looking at other people’s ideas of success. But I know that like, for me and for others that I know, when I’m comparing myself to other people, it can feel paralyzing to me, it can make it feel like oh, well, if I’m not going to be able to, you know, keep up with this person, then, like, why bother doing what I’m doing? Do you have tips on how folks can kind of try? And again, I know I’m sure it’s like a daily practice, but, you know, try to stop that comparison game, or at least less than that comparison game.

Bessi Graham 20:46
Yeah, in some ways, I mean, I think as you said, there’s, there’s a natural human tendency to do that comparison. And so for me, while I want to be conscious of it, and start to not just let my mind run away, one of the pieces that I have found helpful is, if I actually go back to the core values in my family growing up, one of the core values, which was heavily influenced by my mum, was the idea of perspective. And I think that when it comes to comparison, perspective, is a nice word to kind of shift and influence how we engage with that. So excuse me. So for the shift to perspective, from comparison, one of the things you can do is actually really intentionally choose, who are you comparing yourself to. So there’s two kind of ways that this can then flow that actually helps that comparison become helpful. The first is that if you say, Okay, I’m actually not going to compare myself to people who have more money and status and power than me and then feel lesser than, I’m going to have perspective and look at the fact that actually, the vast majority of the world has nothing compared to me, if you have electricity and running water, and you’re an educated person, you are in the top of the top, you are incredibly fortunate. And so the first approach can be to intentionally choose to compare yourself to a broader group of the world, and then say, Wow, that actually puts me in a place of incredible gratitude, and to feel how fortunate I am and be thankful for all of the opportunities that you have, and then step into, and really make the most of that. So that’s kind of one way to take perspective. The other thing, if we stay on that vein of being intentional about who you compare yourself to, is to then use the comparison to look at people who actually inspire you. And so then use it again, to shift you into an action of if you are someone who is driven and competitive use that to your advantage to go, Oh my gosh, like I want to be with AI? How do I do that? So I’m someone who always loves to be, I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room, I want to be at the bottom. I want to always be learning, I will always have people that I’m looking up to and going, wow, like, how do I get there? And so I think taking either of those approaches, removes the pressure of saying, oh my goodness, I need to stop comparing myself to people like and then beating yourself up for comparing. But just be really intentional about who do you compare yourself to? And how do you consciously try to drive it to either a place of gratitude, because you’re now thankful and aware of all you do have, or to a place of inspiration, where you can look at those that you can learn from and then feel that drive and be pulled up by the inspiration of the comparison. So that would be how I would deal with it. Rather than beat myself up about comparing.

Maggie Germano 24:15
That’s fantastic advice. Because I mean, beating yourself up almost never really works anyway, it’s I feel like it just keeps you it keeps you feeling bad. And so no, I love that advice of being really intentional about who you’re comparing yourself with. I think that’s great. And so once folks are, you know, tuned into the their values, and they have kind of identified what the success, you know, in their life or in their business really looks like what kinds of recommendations do you have for tracking success and maintaining motivation?

Bessi Graham 24:52
yeah, I mean, this is incredibly critical because all of us in order to stay motivated Do we need to be able to track and have a sense of making progress? Like, am I actually getting a bit closer? Am I moving in the right direction? So the, one of the keys, especially if you have quite big, ambitious goals, is to do that process of kind of taking that big vision and breaking it down into smaller chunks. So being able to draw out, you know, what does this look like over a quarter? Or a month or a week? What, how do I actually have those action steps that allow me on days when I am either overwhelmed or tired, because the reality is, we all have those, how do I have this broken down to a level where I can still act and feel that sense of progress, and that that I am tracking closer to what it is I want to achieve. And I think that’s incredibly helpful. Because you know, I have it down to the level of in my, my planner, I have key pieces, that over a quarter, I’ve then broken it down to you know, I need to have done this activity 60 times to have achieved that got like so the fact is out the actual activity, the things we do, will lead towards achieving each of the chunks that are the steps towards that bigger goal. And so you will very quickly lose that motivation. If all you do is set this incredibly beautiful big vision. But there’s no stepping stones on how on earth, you’re going to get there. Because the days go by quickly the months fly by, and suddenly you go and six months in. And I’ve done nothing towards that incredibly ambitious goal. So I think that breaking down into smaller chunks, and then being very aware that it is your actual activity, it is the things that you do and think about that will lead to the achievement of that goal would be the most important thing. And then the other piece that I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this, but the other piece that I have to very consciously put into practice is learning to celebrate those wins as you go. Because I’m someone who tends to you know, you achieve something, even if it’s incredibly major, and just months before, you’re saying, Oh, that would be a miracle if I could pull that off. And then you do it. And you straightaway move on to what’s next. But next goal moving on. So that learning to actually celebrate and acknowledge is all part of staying motivated in the best sense of the word. So kind of it gives us that flow and energy. So we’re not sort of drained in the process, but energized.

Maggie Germano 27:55
Both of those are such great pieces of advice. Because yeah, like you said, it can be exciting to set a lofty goal. But if you don’t break down the actual steps to get you there, it’s going to be impossible to get there. Because nobody can really go from zero to 100. Right, there’s about 1000s of little steps in between.

Bessi Graham 28:15
Yeah, and also, if it’s not, doesn’t come naturally, if you decide in advance how you’re going to celebrate. So in my planner in that same section where I’ve got these broken down goals, I’ve already written for example, next to revenue targets, I’ve already written what the prize is that I get at each target, so that I don’t get to it and just move past I’m like, Oh, I already said when I hit that number, I’m doing this thing, that can be a helpful way to make it part of your practice and ritual early on.

Maggie Germano 28:49
That’s really great advice, too, because I know, I’m sure many people listening to this do have a hard time with celebrating themselves and especially celebrating themselves on smaller wins or even like you said, big wins because it it’s so easy to keep looking towards the future and be like, I’m not doing enough I need to get to this space. But looking back, if you can see where you know, 10 years ago where you are now you could be you’d be so impressed with yourself. So I love that idea of like actually pre planning what those celebrations would look like. I think that’s great advice.

Bessi Graham 29:23
Yeah, works. Well. Yeah.

Maggie Germano 29:27
And so is there anything else we haven’t touched on that you want to make sure listeners take away from this conversation?

Bessi Graham 29:36
Probably the only other thing would be that. While I am not someone who pushes the idea that you can have everything and you can have it all at the same time immediately. I do think that you can absolutely have a life that is fulfilling and meaningful for you. And they’re two different things because As if you’re trying to just have everything and and that becomes kind of what you’re after, you will be disappointed and frustrated, and you’ll be working really hard and probably burnout. But if you actually do that work to deeply understand and know yourself, then you can find, actually, there’s a whole bunch of things I’m doing that I don’t even want or where I thought they were expected of me, but no one actually expects that. So doing that kind of work. While it may seem like you want to drive straight to action, and you’re busy, and if you just want to get the work done, I would really encourage people that it is not wasted time, it’s really well spent time to do that reflection, figure out what it is you need and want. And then set those things as as your sense of success and what your goals are.

Maggie Germano 31:01
That’s great. Thank you for that. And is there anything that you have going on right now in your work that you want to promote to listeners?

Bessi Graham 31:12
Well, I’ve actually just recently launched my podcast, so I’m four episodes in. So probably the thing I would love for people to do is to check that out. So it’s called Both And with Bessi Graham. So like I said, earlier, instead of thinking you’ve got to choose either or it’s both. And so if people wanted to check that out, I can make sure that you’ve got the links for that in the notes. And that would be wonderful for just to stay in that conversation and start to explore further their own journey of knowing themselves and learning to lead yourself before you’re leading others.

Maggie Germano 31:47
That’s great. And I’ll definitely link to that in the show notes. And is there anywhere else folks can find you or learn more about what you do?

Bessi Graham 31:56
Yeah, I’ve got a private Facebook group. So again, we can share that link. And we’d love for people to come and join the conversation there. And then otherwise, people can find me on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Maggie Germano 32:07
Sounds great. Again, I will link to all those in the show notes. And I want to thank you again for sharing your time and expertise today. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Bessi Graham 32:18
Thank you. I loved loved chatting with you. I hope it’s helpful for people.

Maggie Germano 32:22
I think it definitely will be.

Maggie Germano 32:27
Thanks again for listening to the money circle podcast. If you want to learn more about my financial coaching services, my speaking and workshop offerings, or just to read my blog visit To get in touch with me directly email me at [email protected]. You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieGermano. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye bye.