Set goals to get there. With their dream agreed on, the couple’s big goal was simple: buy a home! They also needed to identify smaller goals and benchmarks to make that dream achievable, such as saving a set amount of money for a down payment, identifying properties, and improving their credit score for a home loan.

Have you ever noticed that often we equate success with having “more”: more products, more profits, more activities, or more accomplishments? We buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more, and that sequence will sum up to success. Along comes The Great Resignation. Increasingly, employees are signaling that “more” — more pay, more perks, more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We spoke with leaders who are redefining what success means now, and their answers might surprise you.

As part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Carla Cox.

Carla Cox builds innovative social service programs that empower people to achieve stability and success in their personal, professional, and financial lives. As Goodwill Industries of Central Florida’s Director of Strategic Development, Cox oversees the Prosperity Planning Platform, which connects employees one-on-one with planners who can help them set goals and access resources to achieve them. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Applied Sociology at the University of Central Florida.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

One experience that immediately comes to mind is from my adolescence. When I was 15, I went on a humanitarian trip to Guatemala, where deforestation and hurricane rains had caused devastating mudslides. We offered support to rural families who were struggling to get by, building indoor wood-burning stoves that used less firewood than cooking on flames. This simple project taught me that you don’t have to dive right in to solve a problem as complex and widespread as deforestation — even if you’re making someone’s day-to-day life a little easier, you’re still making a difference.

The second experience that shaped me was at the start of my professional career. When I was younger, and more inclined to second-guess myself and my abilities, I was promoted to a position I felt unqualified for and assigned a daunting task: to empower chronically unemployed and underemployed Central Floridians to overcome poverty for good. With our limited resources, my team and I developed a comprehensive program to connect those struggling individuals with rewarding and steady work and help them rise above the poverty threshold. We asked a lot of our participants, and they had high expectations of us in return. After a slow start, we began to see true results: By year three, 72% of our program participants had risen above 200% of the poverty threshold. But while I’m proud of the program results, the real learning experience was to trust in my own abilities — and to appreciate the mentors who invested in my development and growth.

We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?

I used to believe that success meant following the “blueprint” for where you were supposed to be in life. A successful student graduates from high school and goes to college; a successful employee goes to work and moves up the corporate ladder; a successful person gets married, buys a home, and has a family. But while I was good at following that blueprint, I came to realize that it didn’t make me happy.

That realization was a point of reckoning for me. Over the next two years, I decided to rethink my life and my metric for success from the beginning — and to build a new paradigm for my life that was centered on happiness.

How has your definition of success changed?

The “blueprint” definition of success comes with inherent flaws. First of all, it’s based on middle- and upper-class values that aren’t realistic, accessible or equitable for many low-income families. And second, success isn’t something you can check off a list. It’s subjective. It means something different to everyone. And many people, like me, won’t find true fulfillment by following along with the expected steps of a theoretically successful life.

That’s why we tend to avoid the term “success” when working with participants in Goodwill’s Prosperity Planning Platform. Instead, we try to reframe the question in a more constructive and specific way: “What are your goals for life, career, finance and health?” And, alternatively: “What brings pain or stress into your life that we can work towards eliminating?”

The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?

Tragedy teaches us to reflect on, and re-evaluate, our priorities in life. During the pandemic, we were reminded that our time on this planet is a precious commodity — and just as we might budget our financial resources in pursuit of our goals, we’re also budgeting the weeks, months, or years of our lives we devote toward achieving them.

COVID-19 prompted us to ask ourselves, “Am I using my time wisely? Am I spending it in ways that will bring me closer to my vision of success?” And for many, the answer was “no.” Statistics show that families are moving away from city centers to suburban and rural areas with more greenspace and natural beauty, and that there are twice as many people looking for remote work than there are remote-only jobs available in the market. In a post-pandemic society, we’re finding success beyond the lines on our resume — in where we live, where we work, and how we budget our time.

What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.

Each generation has its own watershed moments, and the pandemic was certainly one of them. When we say “2020,” we’ll always be conjuring a vivid memory of turmoil and change. Words like “COVID-19” and “social distancing” that meant nothing to us five years ago are now deeply entrenched in our collective vocabulary. And whether we’re comparing data or discussing market trends, we’re conscious of two worlds — pre-pandemic and post-pandemic — with a stark dividing line in the middle.

Like many catastrophes, I think the pandemic reminded us how much we need one another. Living in isolation and staying at a distance, we all craved connection — and we came to appreciate little things in our day-to-day that bring us closer, whether that’s a conversation with a friend or a hug from a loved one. As we move ahead in the post-pandemic world, I hope we remember to cherish those relationships.

I also have a personal story from the pandemic which is still near to my heart. Back before I joined Goodwill, I worked at a day services center for people experiencing homelessness; every day, more than 300 people relied on our center for meals, showers, telephone access, laundry, and housing navigation services. While we were very concerned about the possibility of an outbreak, we didn’t have the luxury of suspending our services.

The center took extensive precautions, distributed masks, and braved the Florida heat and summer storms to move services outside — and our healthcare team provided tests, vaccines, and hotel rooms so that those experiencing symptoms could self-isolate. To our incredibly good fortune, we didn’t have a single outbreak. I applaud our team’s proactive approach, and I’m grateful to have played a small part in supporting this vulnerable population.

We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”

Through my role overseeing Goodwill’s Prosperity Planning Platform, my team and I help employees pursue success and achieve their dreams every single day. Our model is simple, but the results speak for themselves.

For a great example of how the process works, I’ll tell the story of a couple in their late 50s — let’s call them “Joe” and “Jane” — who sat down with a Prosperity Planner at Goodwill. As they approached retirement, they wanted to set financial goals that would give them security for the future, but they were bogged down by money troubles that strained their relationship.

  1. Identify your pain points. At Joe and Jane’s first session, the biggest challenge was evaluating their current financial situation. The problem wasn’t just that they didn’t have enough money to achieve their goals, but that they each handled money differently — for example, Joe frustrated Jane by hiding money under the mattress, while Jane’s accumulated credit card debt was a source of anxiety for Joe.
  2. Create an action plan to overcome them. In the past, Joe and Jane had tried to pay down their debt, but always failed in the face of seemingly insurmountable numbers. However, their Prosperity Planner helped the couple create a temporary budget that would allow them to make ends meet using Joe’s paycheck, while Jane devoted her income toward paying down debt — and in a matter of months, they were debt-free.
  3. Dream your ideal future. With their debt cleared, Joe and Jane were free to start dreaming big about the future. As they approached retirement, they wanted to focus on long-term financial security — and more specifically, they wanted the sense of independence that came with owning their own home.
  4. Set goals to get there. With their dream agreed on, the couple’s big goal was simple: buy a home! They also needed to identify smaller goals and benchmarks to make that dream achievable, such as saving a set amount of money for a down payment, identifying properties, and improving their credit score for a home loan.
  5. Pursue your plan for success. For Joe and Jane, buying a home became much more practical once they’d started saving money in the bank instead of under the mattress — and by clearing their credit card debt, they were already well on their way to a better credit score. After meeting with mortgage lenders and real estate professionals, and settling on a property that appealed to both of them, their effort and planning paid off: Five months after they began working with their Prosperity Planner, the couple closed on their new home.

And, of course, there’s always Step 6: Dream some more. Rinse and repeat.

How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?

There’s something incredibly freeing about deciding to throw the blueprints out the window and start designing your own path. In my personal experience, expanding my definition of “success” gave me more clarity on what I want (and do not want) to do with my time — and it motivated me to pursue goals more actively.

For those who work with our Prosperity Planners, new ways of looking at success can also offer hope and autonomy. Instead of going through the motions or struggling to stay above water, people find the courage they need to overcome challenges and pursue dreams that once seemed unobtainable.

What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?

Often, we are our own biggest obstacles. When you spend so much time striving for a socially mandated definition of success, you can lose sight of your own needs and goals. You may have met the benchmarks for “success” by reaching a certain career milestone, by starting a family, by acquiring assets — but are you happy? Living with joy is the ultimate sign of success, and it’s not something you can achieve by following a formula. Instead, we have to acknowledge our unique dreams and make them a reality.

Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?

When life just feels off-track and I can’t pinpoint why, I like to take a personal retreat by turning off my phone, tuning out music and TV, and scheduling time away from my typical responsibilities to do other things — like meditating or writing.

Not every setting is good for this kind of retreat, of course! Our homes and workplaces are often filled with distractions that drain our time and attention. If you can, I’d suggest finding a new environment where you can enjoy alone time: staying at a friend’s house, booking a night in a hotel, or even splurging on a solo weekend cruise. Creating a space where I can breathe and reflect helps me learn more about myself and move forward with renewed focus.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.

As a sociologist, I would love to have lunch with Matthew Desmond, whose writing and advocacy have shed new light on the complexities of housing and homelessness in our communities. I’m a huge admirer of his contributions not only to the field of sociology, but to the dedicated service providers who work every day to ensure everyone has access to a safe place to live.

Alternatively, I’m a huge Star Wars fan who can’t wait for the new Ahsoka series — so meeting Rosario Dawson would be amazing.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn at I prefer to use the platform for chatting one-on-one rather than posting content, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

You can also learn more about Goodwill Industries of Central Florida at our website at, visit us on Instagram at @GoodwillCentralFL, follow us on Twitter at @GoodwillCFL, or find us on Facebook at

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.