Last week, I stumbled across the article "No I Won't Lean In, Thanks" by Zosia Mamet in Glamour Magazine and was kind of thrilled by it. In the article, Zosia discusses what it means to be successful on your own terms—not basing success on what others think it should be, but on what you think it should be. As Zosia so astutely notes, "We are so obsessed with 'making it' these days we've lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms."
I couldn't agree more.
These days, so much attention is placed on being successful, with books like Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and #GIRLBOSS getting lots and lots of attention. (Full disclosure: I still want to read both of those books, despite the critical slant I'm putting on them here.) Particularly when it comes to women, the notion of achieving greatness in the form of power, wealth, and leadership is being pushed more and more. An increased interest in and adoration of uber-successful women (see this mug, this notepad, and this print) may make you feel as if you're not doing all you can because you don't have a high-powered job, you aren't internet famous, and even though, yes, you do have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé, you can't manage to (or don't want to) be a business-owning, multitasking, super mom.
As Zosia writes in the Glamour article, "The Merriam-Webster dictionary says success is 'the correct or desired result of an attempt.' But you get to decide what you attempt. If you get off running a global hair care empire, more power to you, but if working as a hairdresser somewhere within that empire brings you joy, then that should be just as admirable."
Success should be whatever you think it is. Just as some people see dandelions as weeds and others view them as flowers or wish-makers, what one person views as a sign of success might be entirely different from what someone else sees as an accomplishment. Success is one of those words that shouldn't be used so generally; it should be a word that has a definition that's unique to each and every person that uses it. What you desire, what you attempt to create successfully in your life, should be entirely up to you.
The trouble with this is that, even if you tell yourself over and over again that doing what you love—even if doesn't lead to an overflowing bank account and well-known status—is what you want, it's hard not to hear the ever-present media whispering in your ear, Lean in. Be a boss. Lead the team. Be like Beyoncé. (Full disclosure: I love Beyoncé and think she's amazing, which is probably one of the reasons I struggle so much with this topic. Even though I know that success should be on my own terms, I can't help but admire the go-getter traits of super successful women.)
"The solution, I think, is to ask ourselves what we actually want—each of us personally—and stop putting so much pressure on one another. Success isn't about winning everything; it's about achieving your dream, be that teaching middle school or flying jets," writes Zosia.
While I think this is an excellent point, I don't think it's as easy as just asking yourself what you want. Because even if you decide that what you want is to spend your days quietly at home, running a not-hugely-successful business, or to raise your children without an answer to the common, "Are you going to go back to work when they're in school?" question, it's really, really hard not to compare your current situation to the success of others and wonder if you should be doing more.
Redefining what success means to you in the face of all the stereotypical ideas of success isn't as simple as just knowing what success means to you. It's about knowing what success means to you and why. When you know why—you want to dedicate your time to being creative and free so you live as an artist instead of accepting the corporate design job—you can combat the pressure of traditional success with the various reasons your unique version of success is ideal for you.
Another important aspect of embracing your own idea of success is being flexible with your definition. What success means to you when you're 20 isn't necessarily what it will mean to you when you're 30 or 40 or 50. Your personal notion of success may change (and probably will!) and that's something you should embrace, rather than fear. While it's hard to imagine that what you define as success will change, it's likely to, and the more adaptable you are, the more likely you'll be able to make the most of success, whatever it may entail.
Making your own kind of success isn't easy—that's why so many people struggle with it—but it's vital for living a positive, present life. When you live by the principles that matter to you (even if they might not make sense to others or in comparison with superstars like Bey), you create an environment in which you can enjoy your moments and have little difficulty staying present in them. Choosing what success means to you means looking closely at what you've always valued to see if (a) those are really your values and (b) if they're still your values. It also means knowing what, deep down, will make feel good on a day-to-day basis because success isn't just some big picture, someday scenario. Success is what you do on a daily basis to create a life you love living.
Defining your own success can start with defining yourself, uncovering the essence of who you are. You can discover more about yourself and what matters to you by downloading a copy of Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your very own soul-searching copy here.