Success and failure often occupy precarious real estate in our minds, and we may think we’ve cultivated a healthy opinion of ourselves until that seesaw tips and we’re in freefall. Part of this precarity, in my experience, comes from gauging success using someone else’s measuring stick. It’s an impossible trap to avoid; I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had to try to consciously uncouple their self-esteem from external validation at some point. Can we learn to enjoy what we do for its own sake without courting a win? And if we get one, can we appreciate it without becoming dependent on the approval?
We’re given lots of advice about how not to worship at the altar of outside approval, to celebrate incremental progress, to not make the perfect the enemy of the good, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s one thing to understand that lesson, and another to truly internalize it. If you’re still on that journey, the following is a gentle, cosmic suggestion for recalibrating your measure of success on a personal scale, according to your zodiac sign.
Aries: You saw it through until the end.
If you’re an Aries, you already know you’re a powerhouse of ideas — and you’re probably pretty proud of it, too. Nothing wrong with your radical self-love, but you falter when you chase volume over quality. Whether you’re writing, painting, promoting something, building a new car or finding investors for someone who has, most projects hit a phase where it’s all grind and no fun. And persevering beyond that feeling of futility is the real differentiator of success and failure for an Aries. For you, success looks like taking your time and building something that lasts beyond the honeymoon stage.
Taurus: You changed.
Taurus is the sign most famous for staying the same. Your steadiness is the envy of the zodiac (trust a Gemini on this), but change is a fundamental quality of living well. And as a Taurus, you love to live well. If you’ve emerged from a sticky situation — or even a complete, sputtering failure — thinking a little differently or following a new routine, consider it a personal victory of sorts. You win when you bump up against something challenging and absorb some of it, rather than rejecting or retreating from it. Folding in new influences won’t dilute your personality, it’ll just add more dimension.
Gemini: You made a little bit of progress.
Geminis are a little underrated for their ambition, but it’s key to interpreting their procrastinating, scattered ways. If you’re a twin, you know your intellectual appetite is bigger than your actual ability to focus on one thing at a time. That trips you up whenever you attempt something major because your head is immediately spinning with multidirectional aspirations. It’s not just a book, it’s a network series starring Laura Dern, a Broadway musical, a dark ride at Disney. But it’s all in your head until you do it, and that’s often why you don’t. The paralysis of Everything leads to Nothing. Your greatest successes come when you can quiet your mind and do a little bit of work. It doesn’t have to be amazing yet — it just has to exist.
Cancer: You were clear about what you wanted.
As tough as you are, Cancer, you operate from your tender, tender center. As one of the most emotional signs in the zodiac, you’re naturally intuitive and prefer an indirect means of communication, one that fully accounts for the depth of what can be experienced between two people. That’s fantastic when it works, but when conflicts arise (and they always do), the potential for miscommunication is incredibly high under the Jedi mind-reading system you’ve set up. If you can state your needs clearly enough that even folks without a Ph.D. in You can understand them, you deserve a prize whether or not they are met. (Doubly so if not.)
Leo: You weren’t the star, and you were okay with it.
It’s a bit overstated how much Leos love attention, but even the shy ones enjoy seeing their names in a prominent-looking font on a plaque or a program. But you can’t always be the star of the show — and even if you could, it might not be the best thing for that show (sorry, always have to account for abstract possibilities). Truthfully, if you’re that kind of Leo, you’ll have plenty of spotlight in your life. But try to notice when you follow rather than lead, and appreciate how worthwhile your contributions still are. If you can thrive without the applause of others, that’s when you’re most deserving of your own.
Virgo: You didn’t sacrifice your body for the cause.
Virgos are effective because they’ll do what must be done, even if no one else is willing to go those lengths. That might mean surviving on caffeine and push-ups to work through the night to please a demanding boss or customer who is still somehow less demanding than you. A Virgo abides by their own perfectionism, and coupled with their earthy pragmatism, that tends to manifest through pushing their bodies to the limit. But sacrificing your body is almost always an unhealthy course of action, so your cosmic victories are about how well you treated yourself in the process. You can’t really win if there isn’t a you to win.
Libra: Someone wasn’t into you, and you didn’t fixate on it.
For a Libra, it’s second nature to chase the good opinion of someone who has not willingly bestowed it while ignoring all the fans they’ve accumulated due to their charisma and charm. It’s part of your deal to want to win over everyone in your orbit, whether or not you even like them yourself. But what if you…didn’t do that? When you focus on nurturing the people who already love you without trying to sell yourself to a new market, you cultivate deeper, richer relationships. And that’s what you’re really chasing anyway. A Libra win is to realize you’ve already won.
Scorpio: Your nemesis showed up, and it was fine.
You’re the sign of held grudges, Scorpio, and it’s a safe bet you’ve got a nemesis or two floating around in the world. Scorpios are not directly confrontational, but instead prefer to quietly undermine their enemies from afar. So when your nemesis walks into the room, you are Lake Placid on the outside and a hot spring of resentment below the surface. But just because you’ve successfully concealed your fury doesn’t mean it’s not eating you from the inside out. A better measure of success is whether you’re able to unclench your fists psychologically as well as physically in their presence. If you can shake their hand and not intend murder, that’s a milestone.
Sagittarius: You apologized, and you meant it.
I get it, Sagittarius, you’ve got integrity and you’re just telling it like it is. But your off-the-cuff commentary may come off more insensitive than charmingly frank, and now you’ve got hurt feelings on your hands. For centaurs in this (familiar) position, their go-to is to explain or defend themselves, hoping to intellectualize away the discomfort. That’s why your personal challenge is to take the empathetic route to brokering peace, trying to place yourself emotionally in the experience of someone else. If you find yourself able to apologize and sincerely feel the stakes from that other person’s perspective, that’s a huge personal victory (and you’ll probably be forgiven).
Capricorn: You asked for help, and you received it.
As the sign of hard-won rewards, it makes sense that Capricorns are reticent to enlist others for help. After all, if someone helps them bake the bread, then they earn a piece of it when it’s all toasty and fragrant and you were already pretty hungry. Capricorns are the reverse of the little red hen parable; they’re looking to shoestring any enterprise as much as possible precisely so that they can reap more of the profits later. But no one is truly a solo operation, and going it alone is usually the least likely path to success, whether you’re building a company or baking a homemade sourdough.
Aquarius: You worked within the system.
It’s tempting to rebel against everything you find lacking, Aquarius. You have great reasons to do so; most systems are corrupt. But nothing would ever get done if we had to constantly invent and reinvent society just to find a decent place to grab lunch (an important and lofty goal!). Compromise is always necessary, even among the most ardent zealots, if progress is to be made. The trick for you is to make sure that you’re parting with your own perfectionism, not betraying the heart of your ideals. Those can be difficult to parse for anyone — but especially you. Celebrate your moments of pragmatism with a delicious and decadent lunch.
Pisces: You kept everything in perspective.
Pisces are well-known for being dreamy and intuitive, but they are just as sharp and detail-oriented as their Virgo counterparts. It’s just that Piscean details tend to be about the interpersonal dramas that play out from moment to moment, not the physical facts of a situation. That’s the dark side of their extraordinary sensitivity; with so much stimuli, it can be hard to zoom out and see the emotional forest for the trees. The contours of success for you, then, are drawn around your ability to maintain perspective. When every little mood registers as big, the landscape will feel necessarily out of proportion. You can keep your dramas, Pisces, as long as you weed out the lesser ones.
Illustration by Allison Filice.