When I turned 37, I was gifted with a life coaching session. I had never used a coach in this capacity before, so I was excited to see what it would be like. Part of my assignment was to make a list of things I had accomplished in life that I was proud of. I hate to say it but I struggled to think of things to list. Intellectually, I knew that there were things I had done with my life that could be viewed as successes, but because I have spent a large part of my life with my foot on my own neck, I never let myself experience any real happiness around those things, much less acknowledge that they were indeed accomplishments. To be honest, I was always looking at how far others seem(ed) to be in their journey’s and felt like I was a wishy-washy lost soul who couldn’t get it together. Had I really done so little with my life? And more importantly, why did I have this habit of always selling myself short? When I told my coach that I couldn’t find things to list as accomplishments she instantaneously listed at least five things about me that she viewed as achievements based on our short interaction.
It turns out that I had a very rigid way of defining success and achievement when it came to my life. I was not giving myself enough credit for the things I have done – and worse yet, I was comparing my achievements or perceived lack thereof, against the achievements and accomplishments of others. I was actively being my own hater, and as I enter my late thirties I’m ready to stop being my own worst enemy. If you’ve taken the time to read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll notice that I touch on the topic of comparing quite a bit whenever I discuss my personal struggles. The reason for this is because without realizing it, I essentially lived much of my life doing so.
I have made it my work to start re-defining the way I view accomplishments and success by examing the things I value and using them as a guide to pursuing life activities that bring me a sense of purpose. I have also learned that my passions are not necessarily tied to my life purpose and/or my life’s work in the way I thought they had to be. This realization has released me from a tremendous amount of anxiety that I used to feel around the idea of making a career or a life out of passions. Focusing on the things I value, although less sexy than the popular concept of an all-encompassing life passion, has created far greater clarity and led me to a better understanding of what success means.
Below are three reasons why focusing on my values has reshaped the way I think about success and has brought me closer to living out my life’s purpose:
When you define your own success you are taking control of your life narrative and living out your truth and not the truth of someone else. For a long time, I pursued things because I wanted to keep up with my peers and meet the conventional and limited standards of societal success. I let success be defined for me and that lead to years of unhappiness. I found it difficult to revel in my accomplishments because a part of me knew that they weren’t all a true reflection of me or what I wanted my life to look like. Part of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life was fueled by this desire to achieve what appeared to be successes by way of degrees, money, and material things. But the more I tried to attain this kind of empty success the less I was actually succeeding and the more lost I felt. I hadn’t stopped to consider or really examine what it was I was truly drawn to and more importantly, what I valued. Actively choosing to incorporate my values into my daily life, has opened up a new world of possibilities to me and has helped me re-frame the way I look at myself and my achievements. I am now able to acknowledge my accomplishments with less criticism. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about material things or making money – Bishes gotta eat! But they are not the totality of who I am. Who I am is more important than what I can produce and what I own. Nothing says success to me more than a sense of self and seeing people (especially women), live lives that are in alignment with who they are as people.
You are less prone to burnout, stress, anxiety, and a sense of overwhelm when you walk your own path. We are working ourselves into the ground and putting our mental health and physical health at risk because there is a sense that if we aren’t producing something or doing something we are of less value. I write about this in my Lean In Or Lie Prostrate? piece as well.
Self-care is more than just treating yourself to getting your nails done at a nail salon – It is more than one hour in a bathroom by yourself. Self-care is the daily practice of showing up for yourself in deliberate ways that centre your needs. Self-care is ultimately about recognizing that your value is not tied to what you do or produce, but to WHO YOU ARE.
I once had a friend tell me that she was always really envious of a person in her social circle because that person always appeared to be ‘doing things’ and looked ‘super busy’ traveling and building their life. She never once told me what the person actually did.
We live in a society that prides itself on the appearance of busy-ness even if we don’t know what people are busy doing. Busy-ness and “doing things” doesn’t mean one is contributing anything substantial to the world. There have been many times in my life when I have felt busy but like I’m not doing the things I truly want to be doing. Creating action in intentional ways is far more inspiring to me now than being busy for busy sake – or aspiring to be busy just so that I can look like one of these “No days off” people. YES! I will take a damn day off! I deserve! – ‘No days off” on taking personal responsibility for your life, and the daily check-ins with yourself sis! ‘Grind it out’ on the self-reflection bruh! ‘Hustle’ yourself to therapy boo! But again, the inner work we need to be doing that will lead us closer to feeling more fulfilling forms of success don’t look cute on Instagram – so here we are.
Trading in your mental health and physical well-being for the sake of keeping up appearances and impressing people is not what success should be built on. The less we chase success based on how it has been defined for us and instead work towards creating our own blueprint to success, the less we will feel the need to admire unhealthy ladder climbing and praising busy-ness because to be in the act of ‘doing’ regardless of how empty it is, means to be achieving or working towards something.
The more we get clear about our values and start doing the internal work that aligns with those values the more authentically successful we will feel. The side effects of this are feeling more rested, less anxious and more motivated to put in work in healthy ways. I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating…External forms of success and achievement are essentially an extension and add on to the people we are – they are not meant to be the sole measure of our accomplishments and they are certainly not any indication of how great at life we are. Success isn’t linear.
When we create our own lane and are more focused on achievements that reflect the essence of who we are and what we value, there is far less room for self-doubt and the need for others to approve, validate or acknowledge that what we’re doing or who we are is worthy – this leads to increased confidence. Recognizing that success is not a one size fits all concept can unearth our most unique gifts that may have been hidden or not given the chance to shine.
Since I’ve been on this journey to thoroughly explore my values, I’ve had to work very hard at sitting in the discomfort of it all. Starting this blog and putting my writing and personal self out into the world was a big step for me. It still is. Every time that I sit down to write and share my thoughts, I feel like I am walking around naked in front of the world. It’s scary. I’m insecure. I don’t always love what I write. My grammar isn’t perfect and the commas aren’t always in the right places – but it’s a small price to pay for stepping into my purpose. Grammar and proper comma placement can be learned. The people who can see beyond the technical imperfections of my message and find the bigger meaning in my words are the ones I focus on. Letting go of my ego in this specific area has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life.
As I continue to explore the things I value I’ve become more creative and have a few personal projects I plan to pursue in the next year that I feel equally excited and anxious about. Ten years ago, I would NEVER DARE to do what I am daring to do now. I believe that coming face to face with a lot of the things holding me back in life and taking personal accountability for the areas in my life that I was not putting enough effort into coupled with actionable steps, has made way for the journey that I’m on now.
I’m working harder than I ever have in my life – but the work I’m doing now has meaning and intention behind it. The work is being shaped by the person I would like to see myself become from within. It’s largely internal. It’s driven by the daily practice of saying nice things to myself when I’m feeling less than. It’s showing up to my exercise mat every morning before I get ready for work, in my little basement to sweat and curse at Jillian Michaels so that I can feel mentally ready for the day ahead and physically stronger than I was the day before. It’s being kinder and more compassionate to the clients I help at work when I don’t always feel like it. It’s yelling at my daughter less when I’m tired and frustrated (I just yelled at her as I was writing this…One day at a time folks!). It’s taking responsibility for the ways in which I contribute to friction in my marriage and actively working towards changing the things I know aren’t serving us as a couple. It’s not being afraid to ask for what I want from my husband and holding him accountable when necessary. It’s not just being aware of the areas in my life that need improvement, but acting on that awareness. It’s not just posting prolific quotes on social media but using them to inspire my personal evolution. It’s being real about who I am and what I’m about and not feeling like I need to mask my true self in order for others to like me. It’s being okay with not being liked. It’s stepping into my worth on my own terms.
I may or may not reap significant material gain from any of this work – but I’m at peace. There isn’t a job title important enough or a luxury car fancy enough to compete with this peace I am starting to feel…Here’s to my version of success.
I hope you find someone who speaks your language so you don’t have…07 April 2019