How Do You Define Success?
I’ve been thinking about the idea of success a lot lately. Anyone else? Do you have a clear vision of what it means in your head? My definition of success used to look something like this: work hard, get good grades, play sports, win, get a good job (with health insurance of course), make money, get promotions, climb corporate ladder, and so on. Then I quit my corporate job and left behind everything I thought was important (from a career perspective) to pursue something new, blogging. Soon I would redefine success and it would look something like this: grow readership, work with bigger brands, get more followers, increase revenue, improve engagement, create better content, never stop working, hustle, and so on.
There was a pattern. To me, success was always driven by numbers, statistics on a piece of paper, boxes checked. I viewed it through a narrow lens and one that left me with the feeling that I was never doing enough. The way I defined success made the whole concept unattainable. I’d reach the goal (or I wouldn’t) and either way I’d feel like I needed to more. Until I hit my breaking point.
It was about a year ago. I was approaching the end of my first year of motherhood, a year of living through a pandemic, my dog was dying, and it was the end of the Trump administration. The mental and emotional toll was intense. The constant barrage of harassment aimed at me during the election cycle, when I was in a vulnerable stage of postpartum, pushed me to the brink. I wasn’t in a good place. I ended up in the hospital with a migraine so severe I couldn’t walk or open my eyes.
I was lucky to have a strong support system to help me take a step back. I was pushing so hard to get back to a life that no longer existed. The end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 broke me down, and forced me to seriously rethink how I viewed my success.
I realized that how I define success was completely up to me. Maybe that sounds obvious, but so much of the messaging we receive and consume, both subliminally and explicitly in society, tell us that success looks like money, power, and recognition. I know these aren’t the only important things in life, but it has informed how I’ve measured my own success for years.
Re-defining success changed everything. Like making time for myself, prioritizing my mental health, and setting boundaries. Being true to myself. Taking a break from work to do something fun, meeting up with a girlfriend for coffee. Nurturing myself, my relationships, my hobbies, and working hard but not to the detriment of everything else in my life. Being kind and generous. Saying no. Failing and being ok with it. Using my influence for good. Not worrying about being the best mom, but doing the best I can as a mom. Recognizing that success doesn’t mean perfectly balancing all of these things. It’s not as if I wasn’t doing these things before, but I didn’t view them as a measure of success.
Success is subjective and perspective is key. It’s doing my best to align my life with my values, and knowing I’m allowed to change my mind or my approach. It’s recognizing that I’m the one in control of my life. It’s in knowing that I don’t need more followers on Instagram or a viral TikTok. The beauty in defining my own version of success is in knowing that those aren’t the things that make me happy or fulfilled. And maybe that’s the best lesson of all.
100% agree! In November I quit my corporate job and am now working part time while trying to figure out what I want to do next. It was / is a scary jump, but it’s allowing me time to prioritize my own physical and mental health. This pandemic is really forcing me to unlearn what I was told success should be and find out what it really means to me. So validating and inspiring to hear others are in the same boat!
Good for you Meg. I totally agree I think the pandemic has actually pushed a lot of people to take a pause and evaluate what’s important and how we measure success in our own lives.
Jess, thank you for sharing and covering this topic. I’m in a corporate enviornment and struggling to define success for mysefl outside of some of the norms you mentioned above (i.e. promotions). It’s helpful to know that other people struggle with this and that even though it’s hard, its so important to define success for yourself.
Working in a very corporate environment definitely made it hard for me to define success outside of the “norms.” It took me years to recognize the patterns I was falling into when it came to how I viewed my personal success. It’s still very much a work in progress!
As a stay at home mom with an autoimmune illness to kids with special needs, I have had to redefine success a lot in the past 10 years. It used to mean a bigger house, a bigger car, climbing the corporate ladder. Then my world sort of crumbled and I actually think it’s been the best thing to happen to me. Success to me now is living in alignment with my values, being kind to myself on days or weeks when all I can do stay in bed because I’m having a flare up, seeing the beauty in small things, watching my kids grow up into beautiful teenagers, and spending time with my loved ones. In the end, it’s knowing that I can still be successful in my own eyes, even if my world were to crumble again…
Such an incredible perspective Amelie. Thank you for sharing.
So well said. I’ve been struggling with the same thing, yet often feel the pull back to my old definitions of success, wondering if people will think I’ve ‘let myself go’. It helped when my therapist asked “so who are these ‘people’?” and I realized I was sacrificing my own happiness/ mental health for hypothetical “people”.
I hope that the more this topic is discussed the easier it will be for women to realize this for themselves, without the burden of what society tells us success should look like. Thank you for tackling a vulnerable but much needed topic Jess!
Yes! I love that question. So true how sometimes the scenarios we think of in our head are just that, hypothetical scenarios/people. Thanks for sharing Savannah.
100% agree! I left my job in corporate America in November, and since then I’ve been doing part-time jobs while I figure out what it is that I want to do next.