Article by Mary Sauer
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fairly ambitious person. As a young child, I kept journals filled with ideas about what my future would look like. From dream jobs to where I would live, I always had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish.
As I’ve grown older, starting a family and a career along the way, I’ve experienced something I didn’t expect: I’ve grown tired of chasing success.
For a couple years now, I’ve felt that I’ve been falling short. I’ve been frustrated to find I’m always a couple steps behind where I expected I would be at any given moment. More maddening, perhaps, is that it’s been a while since I have felt I was truly giving my all to accomplish what I had set out to do. Another version of myself, one characterized by avoidance and self-sabotage, has been winning more often than I care to admit.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized what was behind my resistance to moving forward. It isn’t that I had suddenly become lazy. Instead, I had adopted a version of success that was a poor fit for me.
Finding your own definition of success is important to living a fulfilled life. For a lot of millennials, it has been difficult to connect with a personal vision of “success” because we’re constantly inundated by outside opinions at any given time. In an age of business coaches, gurus, and social media influencers, it’s harder than ever to decide for yourself what a life well lived looks like.
I realized I was no longer emotionally connected to the success I was working so hard to achieve. It was a lightbulb moment for me; I stepped back to see I had adopted another person’s definition of success, even down to an income goal and work lifestyle, and it fit like a shoe three sizes too big.
To correct this mistake, I’ve been redefining my version of success. It hasn’t been an overnight change, but I’ve learned a few things that have helped me resist the pressure to model my personal success after the success of others:
1. I’m Taking a Break From the Noise
Career coaching has a time and place for many professionals, but it isn’t for me at this specific point in my life. I’ve learned a lot by joining mastermind groups and taking courses, but these things also pressure a lot of people to set goals for success that match up with the status quo rather than their own personal needs.
At least for now, I’m taking a break from all the noise. I unenrolled from one course, left a few networking groups, and simply stopped logging into another course I plan to finish once my mind is in a better place. I even went as far as unfollowing some influencers on social media, because I found I was really sensitive to talk of income goals, lifestyle achievements, and the pressure to keep up.
2. I’m Practicing Self-Awareness
According to clinical psychologist Gladys Rodriguez, self-awareness plays an important role in creating an individualized definition of success.
“Start connecting with your feelings,” Rodriguez advises. “Practice breathing deeply and in silence to connect with that inner voice that will tell you what you need and what you want.”
For me, this practice has meant spending the time I used to invest in coaching and mastermind groups on reflection. I’ve done a lot of journaling to explore my desires for the future. This time of intense self-awareness has allowed me to connect with a more holistic view of success. While I was once fairly committed to a singular goal of achievement as a writer, I’ve become more aware of how important it is to define success for all areas of my life, including my family life, my health, and having fun.
3. I’m Celebrating How Far I’ve Come
Most importantly, it became clear that the habit I had of constantly sizing myself up against the successes of others had to stop.
“Stop looking at social media to determine what you are supposed to do when or what success means,” advises Rodriguez. She notes plenty of research has found it detrimental to use social media as a benchmark for determining your own success.
I’m trying to replace these comparisons with small celebrations of how far I’ve come. In the past, I haven’t done a great job of making a big deal about my achievements simply because they felt like nothing more than small steps in the grand scheme of things. Now, I’m sharing wins with friends, writing about them down in my journal, or treating myself to a glass of wine when I’ve reached a new milestone in my personal or professional life.
“Instead of looking for what you don’t have or what you are missing, begin noticing the steps you have taken to achieve what you have, the talents you have cultivated, [and] the milestones you have achieved,” Rodriguez says. “Nothing is too small.”
Ultimately, my effort to redefine success has been an exercise in being more present in my life instead of spending too much time worrying about the future or what I could have done differently in the past. It has been a refreshing chance to slow down and acknowledge that success is not some distant milestone, but something I am experiencing right this moment.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Mary Sauer is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. She writes primarily about family life, food, and mental health. Mary’s work has been featured by Vice Munchies, SheKnows, Babble, and DailyWorth.