Success. It is such a loaded word. It’s a positive word and yet seems to hang over us all the time. There is a dictionary definition of course and yet everyone seems to have their own beliefs of what it is or isn’t. We put a lot of energy into achieving it and seem to strive for it constantly. Yet it hangs over us nevertheless – this deep fear that we won’t live up to the word, that we won’t be a success in this world. And then something worse than not being a success can happen. You actually achieve it and then realize with deep heart-wrenching regret that despite achieving “success”, you aren’t happy.
Why do we let this happen? How is it that you can be aiming for so long for the wrong thing?
After I wrote my last blog on living a full life, and not just a busy one, I had quite a few people ask me to write more about how I focus on achieving “my own success” and not someone else’s.
I feel lucky that I grew up without a strong definition of what success should be. Don’t get me wrong. I was very driven, was petrified of failing and yes, was often “successful” – by that, I mean that I did do well in school and sports. I had a poster over my bed that said “there is no finish line”. Despite being driven though, I never had a really specific view of my future success in life. I never said I needed to be a millionaire by the age of 40 or a lawyer or a doctor or make more money than someone else, or be a wife and mother of three perfect children or own a 3000 ft2 home with a pool in the backyard. I never said I had to be anything to be a success. I never said I had to be anything to be happy. Great, I was set, right?
Great, I was set right? Not so fast. Then life happened.
Not so fast. Then life happened. And along the way, there started to be all these voices telling me what I should want, what I should need to be happy. I got caught up in this. I made the mistake several years ago of forgetting what it was that mattered to me and believing that what made me valuable was how much money I made. I remember it so clearly – I was waiting for my bonus cheque after a year of very, very long hours and hard work. I was waiting for the cheque to fill the void, to make up for the friends I hadn’t seen, the eyes that had weakened from staring at the computer, the concerts I missed, the headaches I had, the family gatherings that I skipped… And then the cheque finally arrived. I opened it and realized it did absolutely nothing for me. All the other voices told me it should make me happy. It did not.
I had started to believe that my net worth defined my self-worth. Thankfully that cheque helped me figure out before it was too late that I have inherent value. You have inherent value as a person.
I had started to believe that my net worth defined my self worth. Thankfully that cheque helped me figure out before it was too late that I have inherent value. You have inherent value as a person.
I then became a mother and felt an entirely new layer of “success” (which translates into guilt) being thrown at me by others – the media, circles of friends, the workplace, strangers…. You should stay home, you should work, you should look like this celebrity 6 weeks after you give birth, you should have a nanny, you shouldn’t have a nanny, you should work part-time, you should breastfeed, you should have an amazing circle of friends, you should work and you should be available every day after school and all pro-d days and all summer holidays, you should have a perfect relationship with your spouse, you should have emotionally balanced children, you should get more sleep, you should have a spotless home, you should, you should, you should….
Talk about ideals that are impossible to meet.
I finally put the earplugs in. Enough already. I put the earplugs in and focused on my own voice. None of the “shoulds” are good or bad, or better or worse. But they are all what people thought I should want. And it is so, so easy to get caught up in their version of you.
I quoted Emerson’s Success poem in my last blog and I will quote him again here :
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – R. W. Emerson
But how to be yourself? For me, along the way, there have been and continue to be tough moments that taught me a lot. I started writing them down to help guide my way. My own manifesto in a way, almost Lululemon style. They are meaningful to me though because I experienced something specific for each that grounded me to be really clear about what matters to me – not to someone else. Here are a few:
I will not miss important family events. A paycheque in itself is insufficient for me to feel fulfilled. Lifestyle matters to me more than the size of my home. I will likely make a mistake today and will remain a good person. I will not waste a minute of my precious life. I don’t mind if my home is messy at times, we live in it! I will be kind to myself and if I forget to be, I will be kind to myself. I will be active every day even if it means I am at the gym for only 18 minutes. I am willing sometimes to skimp on sleep to spend time with family and friends (especially red-eye flights to be able to put my kids to bed or see good concerts with my husband). I will absolutely learn something today. I will laugh often and much.
Built one lesson at a time. But to be clear, what I want is also not what you might want. In fact, most likely it is not. That’s okay.
My way isn’t the right way, it is simply a way.
My way isn’t the right way, it is simply a way.
So put your earplugs in. Listen deeply to yourself. Start your own manifesto to guide you and when you run astray, use it to find your way back. One lesson at a time. That’s how I will achieve my own success and not someone else’s.