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How Can the Streetlight Effect Help You Raise a Successful Girl?

A policeman is walking his beat late one night when he sees a man on his hands and knees, searching for something under a streetlight. As he gets closer, the cop can tell that the man has been drinking.

“Hey, buddy…you ok?” says the policeman, to which the drunk replies, “I lost my house keys.”

So the policeman starts helping the man look around for his keys. They search for what feels like forever, until the policeman asks him, “Are you sure this is where you lost them?”

“Oh no,” the drunkard answers matter-of-factly. “I lost my keys in the park.”

The cop explodes, “Then why in the world are we looking for them over here?!?”

“Because,” the drunk says, looking up at the streetlamp, “this is where the light is.”

It might be just a silly joke, but it illustrates a very real fact of human nature.

It’s often called The Streetlight Effect. Sometimes without even realizing it, we find ourselves searching for the right thing in the wrong place because it’s the easy place to look.

And understanding and recognizing that tendency in ourselves is the key to raising successful girls.

Give Your Girl a Flashlight

What is “Success”?

We may want our girls to find success, but what does that even mean? If you ask a dozen people what success means to them, you’ll get a dozen different answers…maybe more.

Search for your own answer, and you’ll likely find yourself defining success in terms of your personal experiences, your triumphs & regrets.

But here’s the thing if you want to help your girl be successful. Using your definition as the measure for her success is like telling her to look for her keys underneath your streetlight. Ultimately, she’s going to be frustrated & unfulfilled in the search.

If you want your girl to be successful, you need to equip her with the ability to define success on her own terms. You need to give her a flashlight so that she can seek out her success where it lives, not where it’s easiest to look.

There’s No Trophy at the Finish Line...Or a Finish Line

But there’s an even bigger reason to encourage your girl to determine the terms of her own success.

There are lots of metaphors for success. You hear words like “winning” and “finish line” and even “accomplishment”. A person is often described as “a success” or “a failure”, as though it were a rank or a position…or an identity.

But this isn’t a game. It isn’t a race or a contest. And it certainly isn’t a reflection of a person’s worth or identity.

Success–like happiness–is not a goal. Success is something you do, not something you achieve. It’s a mindset. A way of seeing the world. A way of seeing oneself.

It takes a lot of work to nurture a mindset of success. It’s the kind of work that needs to be done on an individual basis. Each girl holds within herself the ability to create success with hard work & cultivate it through her focused determination.

But while you can’t bestow success upon your girl, you can provide her with some practical tools to help her create success for herself and find it with her own light.

Some Practical Tips for Defining Success

Start by having a conversation. Talk with her about the things that are important in her life. What are her interests? What are her proudest moments?

By beginning with a focus on herself, her values & passions, a girl is developing her own perspective on what success looks like to her. It helps her avoid the trap of seeing success in terms of competition and comparison.

Begin to shift the focus outward. Ask her to think about how she can use her gifts and passions to improve others’ lives, help her community & make her world a better place. How can being her best self help to bring out the best in others?

Remember to keep the discussion in terms that a girl her age will understand. You can periodically revisit the topic as she grows and her world becomes more complex and interconnected.

With open-ended questions, you are encouraging her to examine, investigate and establish her own sense of what success means to her. You’re helping to insulate her from the temptation to align her life to someone else’s definition of success.

And isn’t that really the best way to raise our girls to be successful? By helping them to develop a strong sense of themselves and the value that they can contribute, we can encourage girls to recognize success in every step they take towards their big dreams.


At Handcrafted HoneyBee, we believe that each of us can play a role in raising the next generation of successful young women.

And we are not alone.

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