Defining Your Own Success

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Definition of Success (from dictionary.com)

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.

  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors: The play was an instant success.

  4. a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.: She was a great success on the talk show.

  5. Obsolete. outcome.

My perspective on success has evolved over the years, but before it did, the definition above was exactly how I defined it. As a child, success meant that my grades were high. I had my parents' approval, which meant I was out of trouble. Success meant I wasn't being punished. Success meant I got to sleep-over my best friend's house on weekends. Success also meant I managed not to make a fool of myself in class while answering a teacher's question or doing a presentation. Success during that time was very much tied to not doing something "wrong" and pleasing people. But that feeling of success was always short-lived as a child because I was not an A+ student. My grades constantly fluctuated. So, of course, I was always in and out of punishment land.

As I grew older and headed to college, success meant one thing: to figure out what I wanted to do and get a degree. Navigating college with English as a second language had its challenges, but I kept going with one goal in mind— to find a job and save money while I continued to check off the list of milestones. 

It wasn't until I became a mother and began to pursue creative endeavors of my own that my perspective slowly peeled away into something that was more deeply rooted in authenticity, alignment, purpose, growth, and acceptance. I stopped viewing success as the end result. I realized that I had spent too much time being critical and very hard on myself, and rather than celebrating the fact that I had overcome many obstacles, I would totally overlook all of these small victories and the progress I was making on a personal growth level. Over time I came to understand that success didn’t only need to materialize in a tangible form (i.e. lists of goals being checked off/bank account balance spiking, despite how sweet that is too). What about personal growth? What about the conscious act of bettering myself? How I chose to show up in a time of internal and external adversity became to matter as much as everything else. 

I believe that success is a personal and spiritual affair. There is a famous quote that says, "It's none of your business what other people think of you," I'd like to add that it's also "none of your business how other people choose to define your success." I feel we must define it for ourselves, aside from what our 401K and investment portfolio show and what is deemed successful by societal norms. 

It has taken a lot of intentionality and awareness on my part to learn to appreciate the victories (both internal and external) as I make my way uphill. I am very much a work in progress, and I continuously need to check in with myself and look at the bigger picture. Keeping a broader view of how I define success helps me stay grounded and in touch with the present and where I currently am while honoring how far I've come. Sometimes feeling successful can be less philosophical— for instance, when I get to work out for an hour and take care of my mental and physical health, or tired-me keeps her cool when my 6-year-old has a full-on meltdown right before dinner, and together we can get to a place of comfort and mutual understanding. That outlook is essential and enables me to recognize small precious moments throughout my day.

It's with this same mindset that I lead the work that I do at The Branding Edit and Antou Studio. As entrepreneurs, it's easy to get caught in the comparison game and look at what others in your field are doing and feel discouraged because you haven't reached a particular goal or aren't operating at the desired level. When it comes to our career/business, success is defined by the promotion, the bottom line/numbers at the end of each quarter. But what happens to success when the numbers tell the not-so-popular story or when you don't get the raise you were hoping to get. Does it mean that you are a failure? That you're less successful now? 

While writing this article, I thought I'd do a Google search and pull a list of best quotes on success --- here are a few examples below:

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.
— Thomas J. Watson
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
— Helen Keller
The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.
— Barack Obama

Common themes include failure, the power of resilience, courage, and vulnerability and how strongly tied they all are to success— almost inevitable. So moments of self-doubt, disappointment, and failure may be signs for an internal check-in. Take stock— what type of personal growth and professional development have taken place over the past six months or year, “What is this situation teaching me?,” “Is there a lesson for me/my business here?” Maybe the successful outcome(s) you were anticipating didn’t pan out the way you wanted it to, but doing some introspective work could help you re-assess the situation from a bird’s eye view and frame it how you want to move forward with the newfound information. I am only speaking from my own experience— but I find that this type of self-check system tends to revitalize my focus and stir me into action and next steps. It’s not always instant and easy, but I bring myself there. Sometimes I even have to push myself mentally. And that alone is a success, in my opinion. Not a very obvious one, but it is to me regardless. 

I believe success lies in our ability to reframe what it means to each of us. And it’s totally okay to give ourselves a break while we move through successful and failing experiences— we are only human.

I’m curious— what seeming failure have you recently reframed to be a success? As always, Brittanny, Patsy and I are cheering for you!