For the longest time I thought success meant material abundance, a well-paying career, vacations to exotic places, a stellar bank account…
I measured my entire life based on those principles.
How many clients do I have? Having lots of clients means people like me and I’m good at my chosen career.
How much money do I make? Being successful equals lots of money, right?
What does my house look like? If it’s expensive, so am I!
Did I vacation this year? I’m only successful if I’ve booked a flight somewhere warm while the rest of New England freezes its ass off.
I measured my life like that for years. I bought that dream – the material one – hook, line, and sinker. Making money and accumulating stuff was the way I was taught to measure my success. Piled on top of that lesson was the one about success being the ability to accumulate lots of stuff – and stuff – being the source of happiness. So, if I’m successful and have lots of stuff, my life will be rich and fulfilling. And everything else builds from there…
It’s the math of life. Right?
So why wasn’t it working?
It’s not like I never set goals for you. Or changed careers. Or moved to different cities, found new friends, dieted, styled my hair differently – you all know what I’m talking about.
Because I did. I did that shit a lot. I made seeking success my life’s mission! I looked for it everywhere. Every new job. Every new home. My second husband. My new friends.
They all had so much potential! Each one offered me a new place to find success – which would lead to stuff – which would lead to my ultimate goal – which was personal happiness.
Yet, every time I believed I’d arrived at life’s ‘merry-go-round-of-perpetual-bliss’ – I’d end up finding some kind of defect.
Sorry, Lady. The ride spun around twice. It was fun. Now what?
It seemed no matter what I did for work, where I lived, how much money made, who my friends were – there was always something missing.
It didn’t make any sense.
According to everything I was taught about being successful, I should have been basking in my own personal glory. After all, I did everything right – right? I studied. I got degrees. I networked. I took on new career opportunities. I got divorced. I remarried. I moved to new cities.
Why wasn’t it working? What the hell was I doing wrong? No matter what I did, where I went, or who I hung out with, I could never quite get my underlying anxiety to go away.
You all know what I mean. That gnawing, clawing, slightly sick to your stomach feeling of making changes that end up leading you right back to where you started before you tried to change for the better in the first place.
What is that?
I had a formula, for god’s sake. A mathematical equation designed to make success my bitch, therefore guaranteeing my personal happiness.
Why wasn’t that shit working?
And then it dawned on me.
Happiness and Success are two completely different concepts – and they are not mutually exclusive.
I can be successful in a career yet hate my job.
I can have a big, beautiful, spotless house that never feels like a home.
I could live in Bali all winter and still not be warm.
Because, for me, life was more than just a job, or a house, or a vacation.
For me, a successful life meant a happy life. And if jobs, and homes, and friends, and vacations didn’t make me feel happy, then perhaps I needed a new definition of happiness…
That’s when I decided to say, “Screw you, Success. You’re not my bitch anymore. In fact, you mean nothing to me!”
I quit my job and became a hermit (which I do not recommend for beginners in the ‘fuck you, Success’ club. That’s really a skill you got to work up to…).
And I started paying attention to how I felt. On the inside. In every situation I encountered.
That’s when things honestly began to change in my life. That’s when I realized how vastly different happiness and success really are.
I stopped wishing my house looked better on the outside and started focusing on how it felt to live inside it.
I stopped caring what people thought of my career choices and simply, quietly, owned my decisions.
I stopped wishing I was on vacation and just started living.
No matter the outward appearances of my life, no matter the opinions of others, no matter the state of the world – The only thing I decided to care about was:
HOW IT FELT TO BE ME
I started reframing life’s big questions…
‘What do you want to do for a living?’ became ‘How do you want to feel while you’re at work?’
‘How do I want my kids to behave?’ became ‘What kind of relationship do I want with my daughters?’
‘What do I want to buy’ became ‘How do I feel about what I already own?’
And I just kept going from there. Reframing. Redefining. Reevaluating. Until the measure of my life stopped depending on someone else’s definition of success and started becoming my very own, personal definition of happiness.
I did this until I was actually happy. Not superficially happy. Not ‘just got my nails done’ happy.
No. I did this until I felt joyful in my body and excited about my life. I did it until I was laughing, and living, and loving, and smiling. I redefined those questions until my life felt wonderful. On a daily basis. Even when shit hit the fan and things didn’t go my way.
I did it until my underlying layer of stress and anxiety vanished right along side my desire to give a fuck about being successful.
Now, I will never confuse my personal happiness with someone else’s definition of success.
Because they are not the same.