Redefining Success

What is success? These days it seems like there’s an overflow of articles, books, podcasts, etc. that are all trying to give us some definition of success. Although it can be inspiring, it can quickly get overwhelming, especially when no one definition feels right.

Late last year, I had my biggest struggle with success. I had made it my goal to be the most well-rounded student you’ve ever seen. I was going to raise my GPA, have an internship and do more creative work. And on top of that, I was going to read more books for fun. I knew trying to balance all of that was going to be tough but I believed that hustling was the key to success and so it would all be worth it in the end.

So I worked hard at it. I studied everyday, making sure I was doing my readings and practicing my French. I went to my internship each week and made sure that I was working on my projects whenever I had a free moment. At the same time, I was managing and co-editing a blog, as well as working at my part-time job on the weekends. At first, I was thrilled with all the work I was doing. Yes, I thought, this is what successful women do! I thought that if I could handle my immense workload, then I would be proving something. To the people who thought I was lackadaisical and unserious. To my future bosses. To myself.

By mid-October I was burnt out and unhappy. I started panicking when things would go wrong and I felt like nothing was in control. I kept on working but I wasn't sure what for.  To top it all off, I didn’t feel proud about anything I had achieved. Not about my grades, my internship, my work. Nothing. I didn’t feel like a success, I felt like a failure.

I recently read an interview with Phoebe Lovatt, writer and founder of The WW Club, that articulated my current feeling about success: 

I think the only key to success is deciding what success looks like for you, and not getting derailed by someone else’s version of it. To me, it’s asking myself: how often am I waking up and looking forward to my day? That’s success. It’s not about how much money I have, how many followers I have, how much I’m impressing people. If I don’t wake up and feel like my day is a day that I want to have, then what am I doing?
— Phoebe Lovatt

I'll be honest, this is easier said than done. It's easy to say that you don't care about how much money you have or how well your business is doing when you have achieved "conventional" success. When you're just a person working hard to get something published or bring an idea into fruition, it's hard to look at your life and feel like you've been successful. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Having a big idea about success is not a bad thing. In fact, it's important to keeping us motivated. On the other hand, it's important that we celebrate the smaller things that contribute to our being able to pursue the big ideal of success. Like finishing a draft, no matter how messy it may feel. Or having a difficult conversation with a friend. Or finally going to yoga class after months of putting it off. These are all challenges that we overcome and that's what success is about. Overcoming challenges. Or maybe it's not. That's up to each of us.

It took a lot for me to come to the point where I realized I had to evaluate my relationship with success. I had to think about why I had defined success the way I had for so long and why I wasn't satisfied by it. I had to tap into some darker, uglier parts of myself that I often try to talk away. And it's not like I've found the answers in the process. In fact, I'm still trying to figure it out. I know it's a process. I don't feel like a success, but I do feel successful.