Maybe I’ve always had a warped perspective… My early definitions of success were pretty ‘effed up.
You see, at sixteen I was deep in the throes of an eating disorder, convinced that no one could stop my mission to shrink and become lighter, smaller, better… until what? I disappear?
Disordered Eating & Chasing Perfection
In those years, success came in all forms of numbers. First there was the self-imposed grade pressure to do well, take more AP classes, get involved (aka. join all the clubs, get a leadership role, volunteer a ridonkulous amount). Success tallies shifted from academic and extracurricular metrics to a physical count: calories consumed, miles logged, sit-ups crunched, pounds lost- you can see where this was going.
I equated success with thin bodies, fast times, and the ability to control. Success was self-discipline and perfection. Anything less, was disgusting and unacceptable.
Work Performance & Results: What’s Your Impact?
After graduation, I taught. While my own perspective was messed up, I tried to promote healthy affirmations for my students, who were of all abilities. School was not their thing. They grew up feeling unsuccessful and doomed to fail. I used my own spin on The Help’s encouragement, “You are smart, you are kind, you are important”, until one of my six-graders contradicted each phrase. At the same time, I understood him! Because while I gave teaching my best shot, logged long hours, spent my weekends at the library trying to think of what would make teenagers read, I sucked at teaching. Their test scores, their numbers equaled my success. Which meant I was failing. Miserably. This was new. School was where I could perform, it came easy to me. I was internally driven. So when I couldn’t manage my students’ outcomes, I felt powerless.
Success was generating results at work, seeking others validation, and relentless pursuit- until I just couldn’t anymore.
Ego Desires: Big Money, Fancy Titles, and the American Dream
Later I wandered into the realm of community and economic development. I was working internationally doing something I loved, but I made… pesos. Not too many of them if we really want to count. Even abroad I gravitated back to that standard ruler that everyone seemed to use at home in the United States. You know the one where you start moving up a corporate ladder, buy a car that’s not a lemon, marry someone that’s not a deushbag, and start saving for retirement, all before the ripe (old?!) age of thirty. Umm, ‘scuse me, what?
I’m thirty-two. My uterus is underutilized, no life partner prospects in sight, and right now I have student debt, not a nest egg. Oh yeah, I have a car, it’s sitting in my parents’ driveway because it no longer starts. Good news, I’m working abroad, yet my boss keeps calling me an intern. WTF!
Success was a big girl paycheck, real professional job (whatever that means), and societally imposed standards.
On all those marks, I wasn’t measuring up, which left me feeling pretty disappointed and critical of myself. But I was playing by someone else’s rules, not ones that I truly enjoyed living by. These days, I’m shifting towards a different approach, one that’s based on a personal definition of success, living by my values and worrying about me. For the record, life is a lot easier this way.
Write Your Own Definition
There are so many outside voices telling us what to do, how to eat, dress, or style our home offices… It’s time to cut out the external and focus in on ourselves. Maybe success is being able to create the lifestyle you want. For me, it’s being a peace with myself. Feeling alignedwith who I am and how I operate. When I was in a job that didn’t serve me, I couldn’t function. When I’m proud of what I’m doing (even on the tough days), I can keep chugging along, because I know my present falls in line with my long-term vision.
Live by Your Values
In many ways, I’d never really considered or identified my values before. Instead of looking outside, go in. Do the work on a soul level to figure out what it is that makes you tick. Now that I know what mine are, (thanks Danielle LaPorte!), I use them as a foundation and a framework to make decisions. I want freedom, connection, and mindfulness. So I create the job that allows me to design my days. I prioritize time and experiences with the people I love. And I try my darndest to meditate 15 minutes in the morning so I think before I react and punch someone in the face.
Just Do You Bubu
You are not a one-size-fits-all cheap hat, you are a unique, elaborate one with feathers like the Brits wear to weddings. Give less fucks about what other people think. Ditch people pleasing. Stop overthinking everything. Stop believing you need to do what everyone else is doing and shoulding yourself. That’s soo tenth grade. For me, building my own business, I easily fall into the comparison trap. I’m not exactly where I want to be, and some days it starts to feel like I’ll never measure up. And then I take a breath and remember, I’m on my own path. I had the courage to get clear on what it is that I wanted and am pursuing it. There’s nobody I need to worry about but me. If I’m feeling aligned each day, that means I’m heading in the right direction.
There’s success for you. Going in your own direction. Keep moving and don’t let anything stop you. Develop your own meaning of success, choose your values and let them guide you, and just keep being your own damn self. If you can do that, then you my friend are a winner.