Over the last ten years, if someone were to have asked me what success looked, I would have told them, success equaled:
Job with prestigious title
High paying salary
Ability to put emotions aside and get the job done
These markers sound ridiculous now but while I was in the professional world I worked very hard to emulate those behaviors that I saw “successful” women doing. I spent seven years in school getting degrees I thought would help me achieve this idea of success. I spent way too many hours at work, thinking I was proving to my employer that I was a worthwhile investment. I avoided being my authentic self because I was worried showing emotion made me look weak.
I was doing all this work to get the top of a ladder I was not even sure I wanted to be climbing and so (as a news flash to very few) I floundered trying to figure it out.
Realizing I was struggling I started reading every self-help book known to humankind. I attended webinars on finding work that fulfills you, and I was waiting for that lightbulb moment where the Universe would show me what I was put on this earth to do, and it never came.
Instead of a lightning bolt of goodness, I turned thirty years old and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I had spent so much time trying to make myself "successful" that I forgot to listen to the voices inside that were telling me I had steered way off course.
I finally stopped long enough to listen to those voices about what was truly important to my life and my work - I determined that I enjoyed the opportunity to empower others, that I wanted to be in a work environment that supported individual development, and I wanted to be surrounded by humans that created excitement for the work that is done.
Once I realized these things I asked myself a very simple question: If I continue doing what I am doing now, will I be living the life I want to live?
The answer was an obvious and hard no.
The great news is I knew at that point that I needed to make a change and that felt awesome. I checked one thing off my, ‘figure life out to-do list,' and I was left with the dreaded question, now what?
While I was in this phase of questioning and floundering (which is arguably still ongoing) something amazing started to happen, I started seeing women from all walks of life, in various career paths, finding success and fulfillment in ways that I had never believed to be possible.
I met a quiet, non-aggressive woman, in jeans and a jacket running a big-time business (she did it without a suit), I met a confident and kind attorney (who shared her emotions and was a powerhouse in the courtroom), and I met a passionate leader who led with the idea of collaboration over competition - these women were not following the ‘rules of success’ as I had previously defined it, and yet they were incredibly successful.
These images of powerful women started infiltrating this idea of success that I had developed in my brain and my internal definitions slowly began crashing down. These women had shown me that I had the ability to redefine what success looked like to me.
Now that I was getting a clearer idea of what was important to me and I was knocking out these false visions of success, I was able to more clearly define how I could move forward.
My first step was to find a job that more closely aligned with where I wanted to be. As an employee I wanted to feel valued, I wanted to help people, and I wanted some flexibility in my work. That led me to my current role as an advisor in higher education where I am able to help students on their academic and career journey. I am surrounded by supportive co-workers and management, and I am given the flexibility to pursue things that excite me. To many, this job title may be viewed as a step down from my previous roles. It could be seen as a failure that I ‘gave up’ working in law (that’s a whole other conversation), but instead, I saw it as the first step in the right direction.
I am not sure where I will be in five years and that is okay. But for the first time in my life I am clear on my values, I understand my vision to empower others, and I am working to follow my new definition of success each day.
For me, that means, if I am successful tomorrow, it is because I am feeling fulfilled in my work, that I am helping people help themselves, that I am caring for myself and my loved ones, and that I am constantly allowing myself to grow.
“If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we're not really living. Growth demands temporary surrender of security.”
~ Gail Sheehy
No matter where you are at in your career or your life it is not too late, you have the ability to ask yourself the tough questions, to challenge your existing definitions of success, and to decide if what you are doing is working or not working.
You have the greatest opportunity each day to make small changes to get you closer to where you want to be - let's start today.