Finding Other, Slower, Measures of Success


A few pages in, I let out a huge sigh of relief. "So, I'm not lazy. I'm not alone," I thought to myself.

I was reading Thrive: The Third Metric To Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. In the introduction to her book, Huffington writes, "We are entering a new era. How we measure success is changing." She states that the two traditional metrics, money and power, aren't enough anymore. Her third metric encompasses well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

This immediately caught my attention, as it is something that I had been thinking about a lot for the past two years, ever since I decided to become a writer and dropped everything to do just that (ultimately deciding that the first two metrics of success aren't enough for a life of value). It does seem that there is a general movement to redefine how we do things, which I often see expressed in all the slow movements that are appearing these days as the world gets more and more fast-paced, such as slow-cooking and slow-reading. (And, in my personal case, the decision to do "slow-writing" when it came to my first book.)

As I was finishing up this book over the past weekend, I happened to also read a blog post on Sunday by Maria Shriver in which she wrote about the importance of not only judging yourself by what you do but also valuing yourself for who you are. Here was validation, for someone like myself trying to launch their career, from two women who had succeeded when it came to the first two metrics of success that the third is indeed a valuable one to reach for. (And I don't think it is a coincidence at all that it is women leaders who are speaking up, and paving the way, on these issues).

Huffington goes on to describe the problems that occur when we only focus on traditional measures of success, problems that arrive from the high levels of stress in our society, not the least of which is poor health, and those related to sleep deprivation. She states that some of the biggest catastrophes are "at least partially caused by a lack of sleep," including "the Exxon Valdez wreck, explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, nuclear accidents of Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island, and the deadly Metro North accident in 2013." That's not hard to believe.

She then continues to write, "We need to redefine what we value, and change workplace culture so that working till all hours and walking around exhausted become stigmatized instead of lauded." She uses specific stories and examples to show that this redefinition is not only wise but necessary. The majority of the book consists of stories, anecdotes, studies and facts making the case that it is necessary to pay attention to the third metric of success. There are also detailed practical tips on how to do just that.

These tips come with a reminder: "Meditation, yoga, getting enough sleep, renewing ourselves, and giving back make us better at our jobs at the same time that they make us aware that our jobs don't define who we are."

I wanted to read this book all summer and was finally able to check it out from my local library in September (it was obviously in high demand by local readers in Santa Monica). I read it slowly, which seemed appropriate for its message. It resonated highly with me. After spending a year and a half writing my first novel, the self-doubt had definitely begun to take its toll.

However, it wasn't creative self-doubt. It was personal. What was I doing with my time? How could I measure what I had accomplished? I didn't have any of the traditional ways to judge myself and my work. By all the societal standards of success today, I had failed -- or at least, I hadn't yet succeeded.

Reading Huffington's Thrive and Shriver's "We Are Each Exactly Who We Are Meant to Be" made me realize that I had succeeded in other ways and reminded me that there are other things of value that a person can do and achieve. The career part will come soon. I do believe it. But that's not all that matters. And maybe, when it came to the things that really mattered, I hadn't failed at all. This was a good reminder not only of how to judge myself, but also of how to look at others too. And that's why I recommend this book to all women (and men), especially women at the beginnings of their careers like me.

I suppose it may be easier for those who are already successful (in terms of the traditional metrics) to take a step back and decide to slow things down and focus on what really matters. As a young woman trying to launch my career as a writer, I consciously made the decision that I wanted to reach the point of success in a wholesome way. I knew and still believe I can reach the exact same place, while also cultivating other areas in my life. It may take a little longer than it would if I abandoned everything else, including family and sleep.

It make take a few months, or a year. Or even two (eek!)

This has been terrifying. I am often urged to cave into the pressure and go back to traditional routes where I could more concretely define success: Get a fixed job with a fixed income and tangible results for each day's work. But then I remind myself of what I truly want to do, be, and contribute to the world. I remind myself of what really matters. And it seems worth it in the end, even if it takes me a little longer to get there.

I was even surprised to realize, a couple of months ago, that this is one of the central themes of my novel. I hadn't done it intentionally, but it came out rather strongly in my work -- probably because it was such a prominent issue in my mind. What is really important in life? What is of value? How can you do the work that you want to do without sacrificing other aspects? What is success, really? How do you define it for yourself and stick to that definition when society in general may not agree?

Are there any other people at the starts of their professional lives who are grappling with these issues? I'd love to hear your strategies for staying true to yourself while you also work hard to build the careers that you want.

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