I can pinpoint two pivotal moments in my life when I realized that I had to redefine what success means to me and what I thought I needed to be successful.
The first time was when I sat my husband down on the couch to tell him that I wanted a divorce.
If you had asked me to bust out my ‘what I need to be successful’ checklist, I would’ve ticked off every box. Married and settled? Check. Great career and income? Check. House and car? Check and check. But something was missing. I was exhausted all the time, uninspired, unhappy and my body was getting sick.
So I got that divorce and worked at an advertising company for the next 6 years. When it was time to move on, I moved on. When I quit my job, I announced that I was leaving to start my own business. I became the poster child for everyone I knew who hated their job, their boss or their coworkers. I was ‘that girl’ who flipped the bird to ‘the man’ and decided to try things on her own terms.
Over the next 3 years, I was speaking, creating, coaching, consulting with big companies and solopreneurs, and facilitating workshops and seminars. I was doing things I never thought I would that scared the living shit out of me. But I was also riding a financial roller coaster. In the beginning of my business, I was making good money. And then came September 2015 when I had to restructure my business to suit my lifestyle. At that point, I was barely making enough money to pay for groceries and was watching my hard-earned savings slowly disappear.
And again, I found myself tired and burnt out from trying everything I could to make things work. That’s when I decided to start looking for a job.
I felt like a fraud. And a big fat failure.
But I also realized that I had never been more successful in my life.
And that’s because I chucked that stupid list I had of things I thought I should be doing and labels that didn’t suit me. Instead, I decided to move with 3 metrics to measure my success.
1. Am I comfortable with being uncomfortable. There’s a saying that you need to feel the fear and do it anyway and I totally agree. Often the things that we’re most afraid of are the things that we really need to do. But I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that I need to conquer my fear. I think fear can be a healthy thing and I know myself – if I’m not scared of something, I’m not challenging myself and eventually I’ll get bored. So instead, I strive to be comfortable with the discomfort. That means that I’m not flipping out on the people I love the most when I’m stressed about money, business or how things are going (or not). It also means that I’m good to myself in the process and rolling with the punches – choosing not to close when things don’t go my way.
2. Am I being flexible. If I’ve learned anything about creativity and business, it’s that for every single thing I’ve tried that works – everything that produces the outcome I’m hoping for – I do ten things that flop. And that’s ok. Rather than trying to force things to turn out a certain way or thinking there’s one way to do something, I try to be flexible and understand when to change course. If something clearly isn’t working, I need to be open to other possibilities in life.
3. Am I going with my gut. Every time I’ve had that nagging feeling in my gut to not do something or connect with someone in particular and I’ve forced myself to do it anyway, I look back and think “shit. I knew that wouldn’t work.” I’m not talking about feeling the fear here, I’m talking about the nagging feeling that something is off. When I move towards the things that I know deep down will help me grow, the things that inspire me, give me goosebumps and feel good, I find that I’m way more successful. And more often than not, those things open doors to other opportunities I didn’t even know existed.
I think we need to redefine success for ourselves every so often. We need to check in and see if the things we’re chasing – the things we think we really want the most – are the things we really need.
We need to understand that sometimes success is a straight line from A to B. And sometimes, we need to zig and zag, take a step forward and two steps back. And sometimes success in life happens only when we go full circle.
I think we need to give ourselves permission to try new things. We need to forgive ourselves when those things don’t work out the way we thought and we want to default to negativity. And we need to celebrate when things go well.
We need to understand that we’re all on the same boat – we all doubt ourselves sometimes. We all have fears. We’re all just trying to figure things out for ourselves. And nobody has it all figured out.
Success happens – and we can consider ourselves successful – when we do our best and trust that our best is enough.