Why It’s Important For You To Re-Evaluate Your Definition of Success

by Anna Patricia
what does success mean to you?

“So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas, and make sure that we own them; that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out, at the end of the journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”                                                                                                                                                                                 —  Alain de Botton, TedTalks

Ever since I can remember, my own notion of success has solely focused on fostering a career. In high school, I developed a long-term plan which touched only upon future schooling and employment. My perfectionist tendencies pushed me to believe that the meaning of success was only represented by one sole entity; this being external success rather than internal value of ourselves.

This concept of success fostered an environment in which I continually thrived and challenged myself. I never stopped to take a breathe because in my mind, there wasn’t any time for such a thing.

Yet, when I reflect upon these moments now, I realize that my opinions of what it means to live a successful life were never my own. My goals were far from authentic as they reflected these never-ending, high expectations placed in my mind by what the world somehow demanded of me.

Checking myself into emergency crisis mental health care forced me to acknowledge that external success does not always correlate to happiness. I had forced myself to become completely engulfed by this external pressure, so much so that I had no idea who I was.  And so, my internal crisis began as I was forced to completely surrender in order to redefine myself, my strengths and one day – I hoped – my passions.

The next few years would be focused on discovering – for the first time – what I wanted out of my life. In a way, it felt like being a child again, navigating my way through what felt like a new world or new experience.

As my graduation from university approached, I could feel those external pressures and expectations re-surfacing. It was my final semester, I was stable and happy, yet extremely fearful of how easily that feeling could disappear. I was still putting myself back together slowly. Discovering and determining what made me, simply me.

I was approached with those typical, daunting questions:

“What are your plans?”

“When are you planning on returning to school?”

“What’s next?

Little did people know that there was a time when I didn’t think I would make it to my graduation; a time where death seemed like the only possible outcome of my future. So it was safe to say, those questions hurt and they hurt deep.

Every time I was asked, all I wanted to do was run, because with each question, I could feel the instability resurfacing. This fear and shame of navigating outside the “norm” or not living up to the expectations of others.

I wished that we could shift away from this intense focus on external successes to a more more internal way of thinking. For instance,

“Are you happy?”

Eventually, I found myself in a typical nine to five job. Yet, what was supposed to be an exciting new life development turned out to be far from that. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed but somehow, those external expectations were once again, in the driving seat of my life.

I think our journey of success is a course of trial and error. However, where I continually struggle is remembering to define my success as my own.

For some, success will translate into achieving their career goals, whereas for others, it might be discovering a form of success within aspects of their personal life.

It’s about accepting that my idea of success may be different than yours, and that, is completely okay.

This past year, I have put my own career goals (temporarily) on hold.

For me, this year has been about personal growth – putting myself first, making my own decisions, being autonomous and seeking the necessary support to build a stable platform for when I am ready to tackle my own external goals.

For the first time in my life, I am living my life the way I want and most importantly, the way I need.

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