There are too many books, articles, and speakers trying to discover a universal definition of success. Is it money, power, a great sex life? Who cares!
This need for one definition is exactly what's keeping us stuck. In fact, it's a good thing that we each define success differently because true success means living out your unique life's purpose.
Ignoring the common external definitions of success involves courage, vulnerability, and the desire to embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly. But in reality, how does that play out? Is it really as empowering and freeing as the inspirational Pinterest quotes claim?
Being vulnerable takes you to a new and scary place. And before you reach that state of limitless freedom, your inner critic grabs you, shakes you, and spits in your face.
Last week in an article on MindBodyGreen, I shared my battle with depression, medication, and sexual abuse with millions of readers. While it was scary to face my fear of being judged, it was also liberating to bare my soul to the world. What I didn't expect was my reaction to all the positive feedback. The tremendous outpouring of love, empathy, and honesty, going so far as to call me a "role-model, blessing and leader," shook me to my core.
Unlike most people, I didn't take those comments to mean I'm a success.
To be honest, it made me sick. Literally. Migraines, nausea and anxiety. Sure, you'd think these kind words would comfort me and affirm that I made the right decision, but my inner-critic interpreted them as added pressure -- new and greater expectations of what I should be. Suddenly, I was defining my success as my ability to meet these new standards. It was overwhelming. I felt that any failure to live up to these expectations would make me a failure overall. But true success is not dependent on society's changing standards of who you ought to be, nor is it based on your fearful perceptions of who you think you should be.
So what am I learning from my struggle with these perceived expectations?
That success has ups and downs. That facing your fears is the key to happiness. And that real success involves defining it on your own terms. The need for a universal definition of success is what constantly keeps us in a state of lack. Finding true success requires honoring the parts of you that are different than everyone else.
Success is an internal shift and not an external outcome. It comes from looking your fears in the face and telling them to shove off. And while it may not be apparent to others in the same flashy way as money, it is just as real. Because it's naked, honest, and doesn't require physical proof.
So how do you define success on your own terms?
1. Define YOURSELF on your own terms.
Who do you want to be? Stripped of all expectations, you can choose what you want to create. And if what you're currently doing isn't cracking you open and lighting you up, then you aren't the person for that job. Because ultimately, becoming your true self is your life's purpose.
2. Dare to be great.
The writer Thomas Moore once said "The need to be normal is the predominant anxiety disorder in modern life." So why bother trying to be normal at all? Aspiring to something greater makes you more vulnerable and that openness allows you to grow. Yes, it's scary as hell. But when you remove your limiting beliefs, you begin to embrace living your full potential.
3. Work for it.
Often, as we start to feel energized, happy, and successful, we start to get a little lazy, telling ourselves, "I'm feeling great! I guess I can stop eating well/exercising/meditating" And then things fall apart and the cycle begins again. Maintain the self-love practices that keep you whole and happy. When people ask me how I got to be so happy, I say the same thing every time, "I work for it. Every. Single. Day." It's a conscious decision to choose happiness and maintain the practices that align you with your best self.
Defining success on your own terms allows you to ignore the standard one-size-fits all approach and live from a place of truth and knowing. It allows you to embrace your genius instead of hiding from it, thinking that success can only look a certain way. When challenged, you'll have a fluid definition of success that will be true for you and not dependent on external situations that could make or break you. You won't be at the mercy of life's ups and downs, because your happiness won't depend on anything external. And isn't that really what success is all about?