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What I Wish I Had Known About Success

Posted on August 10 2015

Never, ever let other people define what success means for you. I wish I had told myself this every time I started a new job, business venture or journey. Of course, living in the past does nothing for us. It’s how we move forward that counts; what we do now –that’s all that really matters.

When most people think about success, the first thing that comes to mind is either money or fame or fame and money–basically, material things. In a world where a person’s worth is defined by how many Instagram followers and likes they have and where infamy is the currency du jour, it’s not hard to get lost in what society values as successful versus what success actually means to the individual.

In our professional lives, we’re pitted and measured against each other. There are metrics that have been put in place to make us feel bigger or smaller than others. The same thing applies to life outside of work. We have set up metrics as a society to make us feel like we are better than or worse off than our friends, families and even strangers. No matter how rich, powerful, strong, intelligent and ambitious you are, there’s always someone else who’s slightly ahead. Someone is always keeping score.

Speaking of societal metrics, if you’re still single at a certain age, then you’re a lonely failure. If you refuse to have kids, you deserve pity. If you choose to travel the world instead of staying put and taking on a mortgage, then you’re a nomad with no roots or foundation.

We often forget that we’re not here to live other people’s lives. We entered this world as individuals, not as a group so why do we put so much emphasis on what the group values? Why are we so afraid to make our own rules or even better, live without rules? Therapist and Yogi, Tara Brach provides an insightful answer to this inner turmoil. Quoting Mother Theresa, she states “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.”

Could it really be as simple as the fear of being left out? In a society that screams for individuality and self-expression, how is it possible that the moment someone decides to take the path less traveled, they become ostracized?

My mother was a fulltime mom of six as well as a full time entrepreneur. Success to her meant raising healthy, well-adjusted kids. It meant every single one of her kids graduating from college. Her business thrived but that came second. Success to some people could be as simple as getting up in the morning. To others, it’s having the freedom to choose who and what they spend their time on. What is enough or plentiful differs from one person to another.

I’ve often spoken about the need to recognize that this is your journey; your life, filled with your decisions which means you should get to define your successes. Perhaps it’s completing the first chapter of that book you’ve dreamed of writing for years or maybe it’s quitting your job to backpack through South America. 

It’s time we stop defining life’s moments as big or small. Each milestone and achievement is equally powerful because each gets us closer to realizing the fullness of who we are. Growth is growth, be it an inch or a mile. Our achievements matter because we say they matter; we are successful because we say we are.

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