What does success look like to you? We all know what society has conditioned us to think. Oodles of cash in multiple offshore accounts. Luxury yachts moored in tropical waters, a fleet of Italian sports cars at the ready complete with a handful of McMansion’s dotted throughout the globe. But does what surely amounts to the accoutrements of a successful rap video equate success to you? Grated these material goodies are the by-products of immense wealth, but does immense wealth for one individual equate immense success for another? In a planet filled with well over a billion people, why would we all have the same barometers around what being truly successful means.
I believe what our own version of success looks like is a matter of individual choice. Some people might think that success is rising to the upper echelons of your chosen career field. Some might equate it to how many doctorate degrees you have managed to tuck under your belt. Some might think how well you marry counts as success and others might liken it to how many children you have.
There simply is no one size fits all modicum of success. What we have to remember is that it’s important that we learn to stay on our individual path to success in life. It’s when we lose sight of this path that we find ourselves falling into our family, friends, or society’s definition of success which can typically be money and status driven. But what if your road map to success doesn’t fit into this preconceived framework?
This is something that I have been grappling with for many years. As a teenager I was obsessed with fashion magazines and harbored secret dreams to see my name on the byline of a popular column. But writing for a magazine wasn’t considered a successful option in my family. I needed something more demonstrably “successful”. Having a career as a lawyer was a secret dream of my fathers and so my sixteen year old self, desperately seeking approval, decided that’s what I would be.
It was the start of a love / hate relationship with my career, and decades later one that I am finally trying to disentangle myself from. On paper it was a solid career choice that enabled me to live in various cities across the globe whilst gaining tremendous life experience, and yet I had a deep seated feeling of insecurity continually nagging at me. I felt like I was an impostor in my own life. After many years tirelessly clocking up year after year at a job I hated, I had a pivotal moment of clarity. I was climbing up the rungs of someone else's ladder of success. No wonder I felt like a fraud.
Buoyed by this realization I started to contemplate what success meant to me and which steps I needed to take to get there. I began to compartmentalize and focus on those areas of my life which I felt were successful whilst simultaneously dismantling those areas that were no longer working for me. Through this process of self-inventory I learned 3 valuable lessons on how we can learn to create our own version of success in life:
Define what success means to you
In order to lead the life that we desire, we have to learn to set our own goals according to what we want as an individual and not what someone else thinks we should want. This is all about you, your life, and your idea of success. When we have the courage to question what we’re doing and, more importantly, why we’re doing it, we stay true to who we really are and as a result, start to feel a sense of fulfillment. In clearly defining what it is that would make us feel like a success in our own lives, we have something to strive for. Once we begin to imagine it, dream it, we start to make it a reality.
Don’t wait for others to validate your success
I learned this the hard way and spent far too long in an industry that did nothing for me hoping that this would give me the validation I was so desperately seeking. It didn’t. My never ending search for approval would have gone on forever had I not finally got the memo that the only person you need validation from in this life is yourself. Don’t waste time waiting for a pat on the head. When we free ourselves from the limitations of what others perceive as success, a tremendous opportunity opens up to define life on our own terms.
Don’t be afraid to fail
When we succeed without first failing, we don’t tend to appreciate the hard work it took to get there. Here’s the thing about failure, it is singularly one of the most effective ways that we learn. In learning what not to do, we figure out what it is that we need to do to succeed. It’s called life experience and failure is a huge component of that. Rather than fearing failure, we should fear not even trying.
In figuring out what success looks like to us as individuals we begin to set ourselves free from the comparison game. There is simply no use in measuring ourselves by a yardstick that’s not meant for us. Create your own yardstick instead.
To quote one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou “Success is liking who you are, liking what you do and liking how you do it”
Victoria Cox currently resides in NYC. She's a contributor to The Conversation, Tiny Buddha, Elephant Journal & Dumb Little Man. You can connect with her on Instagram @vcox23