How do you define success? There are many external indicators of success for which we are socially trained to judge ourselves and others. Many of these result in stress and anxiety as we try to live up to benchmarks that don’t always align with our values. Today, let’s take a look at what happens when you define success in your own words.
How I measure my success has changed since I started focusing more on what I value; however, it wasn’t until I came across this quote from Brene Brown, that I realized that it wasn’t just my value system that had changed, but my definition of success.
“Defining success is one of the most powerful things you can do as a family, as a couple, individually. There is a default definition that is, ‘money, materialism, accomplishment, and achievement.’ So if you don’t come up with your own subversive definition, there is a default.”
A Little Back Story
Earlier this year, I found myself sitting in a Starbucks at the Flatirons Mall, in Broomfield, CO. Originally from Colorado, I now live in France. I’d popped home for a short trip to see my family and to consider moving my 9-year-old son back to Colorado to live with his father and step-mom.
My aunt and my cousin are two women I admire immensely. I felt especially grateful for the chance to meet with them on this cold Colorado Day. My aunt came, as she often does, with a new book for me to read. My cousin arrived with a smile on her face, despite living for over a decade with the daily trials and pains of cancer.
As we sat chatting, I mentioned that as I turned 40 this year, I’d set the intention to be a success, finally. To stop failing at things and get IT done. My family tends to be pretty good at hiding our emotions and playing it cool, but when I mentioned that I’d not been successful, both my aunt and my cousin couldn’t help but momentarily lose their composure. I instantly felt silly.
Wait. A. Minute.
I had to stop and ask, what is success to me? Just as we say that “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder, often, so is our success. And so began my investigation into my evidently unfounded feelings of failure. Why did I not see the successes that other people saw? Why is it that some of us see success where others see failure? Why did I not understand this before?
The Definition of Success in Life
In April of this year I turned 40, and as I’ve done every year since I turned 33, I took the time to reflect on the last year and to set goals for my coming year. Consciously reflecting on my past through the filter of “what is an authentic indicator of success?” I began to realize that just because life can be messy and unpredictable, doesn’t mean that we are not successful.
I now recognize my success not as a chart of achievements to fill out a professional resume, but rather as living life by my values. Taking the time to look within and check-in with myself, but also taking the time to connect with my fellow humans. I accept that being vulnerable to life is being successful, because it means that I am alive and am living, breathing, learning and connecting. I understand that I need to work less at doing it all on my own, and surrender some of my control to a higher power, the universe and my community.
The definition of success in life is not a one-woman show — that is just lonely and hard.
Unexpectedly, a few days ago, while working on this piece, I received an email from Rob Hatch titled “We Never Do it Alone,” in which he proposes precisely this, that success is a community effort. Although I’d already been going down this path, reading Rob’s story, I had another revelation. We often hear that success is measured by the lives you touch, but Rob’s experience and my experience take this a step further. Our success does not happen in a vacuum; it occurs in a community.
Our success does not happen in a vacuum; it occurs in a community.
Click to Tweet
We never do it alone!
Success is Sweeter Together
No matter how hard you work, your success is not only yours, it is also that of everyone that supported you, be it your mother or your mentor, your priest or the guy that took a chance on you at your first job. Yes, we must take responsibility for our actions, and we must set goals for success, but we don’t achieve progress alone, it appears in the form of community.
In the spirit of community, I decided to ask my peer network of Xennial Women for their definition of success in life. I sent them some background and then asked: “define success in your own words.” Each interpretation of success is valid and whole as it stands alone, it is enough.
Living a Purposeful Life: 9 Inspiring Definitions of Success by 9 Xennial Women
#1 – Malia
Success for us is living a life in line with our core values. Our daily choices and habits reflect our values and help us to live out our life and interactions without feelings of dissonance. We have decided our family’s general core values include spending time together, promoting environmental stewardship, and maintaining an active/healthy lifestyle, and supporting our independent passion projects.
We (my husband and I) have worked very hard to live in harmonious accord with these values. We have both selected to be self-employed, so we can attend our kid’s performances and school events. We purchased a home within a mile of the kids’ school, and everything Lafayette has to offer and make it a habit of biking to as many of these places as possible.
We also have made it a habit to select kids activities that are within biking distance, to continue our environmental stewardship (right now we bike to school, piano practice, kung fu, dance lessons, trivia, Spanish class, and the library on a weekly basis). Our healthy lifestyles are evident in the hiking we do with our kids and their relationship with exercise. At ages 10 and 8, they already have over 300 miles of backpacking and lots more of hiking under their belts.
As for passion projects, my husband enjoys music and is starting to get back into the DJing scene for non-profit galas in Lafayette, and I am trying to determine if there is anything that could compete with real estate in making me excited to get up in the morning. We have worked hard, and saved money, and will be financially independent by next summer, and will have more time and opportunities to continue to craft a life in line with our values, living our version of Success daily.
#2 – Sarah
Two years ago, at age 35, I was in a depression after a minor surgery turned into proof that I was unable to have children. In the aftermath, I also found myself unable to sustain the endless cycle of increasing hours and accomplishments I had set up for myself in my career.
I needed physical therapy, long-term hormone replacement options, and time to grieve. I found I had built a false narrative about how I could prove my worth by earning accomplishments and being the best at whatever I was doing. But the best was always just out of my reach.
The big achievement I craved as something I could point to and say “I am worthy because I did that” was always a fleeting mirage, something I couldn’t catch. I had no proof of my worth, and now I wouldn’t be able to have a child of my own and say, “This is the value I have given to the world.”
Fortunately, I had my faith. God’s message is that He doesn’t require results, only faithfulness. And grace is called grace because you can’t earn it – it’s a gift. Success is a worldly imitation of grace; it looks like a distant oasis where you “achieve” all the things you think you wanted. But just when you think you’re about to arrive, it moves. Frankly, I found it exhausting.
Grace is counter-intuitive, you can’t chase it because it’s already there. You can’t earn it by being worthy – grace IS what makes you worthy. You can only accept it. Radical acceptance. And so, I come to success by riding on the coattails of grace.
Now, my measure of success is not feeling the need to explain or prove myself to the world. I show up every day; I try to accept the condition of my body on good days and bad. I try to count the number of times I belly-laugh. I let myself feel what I need to feel, grief or gladness or pain. And I work on accepting the grace given to me.
#3 – Anna
Defining success does not feel challenging for me. Perhaps that’s because I was raised by parents who didn’t suggest I use their definitions and encouraged me to ask questions and pursue my own interests. (I was also fortunate not to feel the need to strive for a hefty salary, which I believe – right or not – was partially a function of growing up feeling financially sound and partially a function of being a woman, which meant I felt less pressured to support my family). Or, perhaps it’s because I landed upon a path that feels good and suits my personality well.
In my twenties, the word ‘success’ would conjure up images associated with money. At forty, that definition strikes me as unsatisfying. Successful people aren’t always wealthy, and the rich aren’t always shining models of success. To that point, I’ve come to largely disassociate the word wealth from success (though I think an individual’s basic financial needs have to be met to fulfill the journey of pursuing broader goals).
In my mind, success is finding a role that provides deep personal satisfaction, serves a purpose beyond one’s self (this often heightens the feeling of personal satisfaction), and fits squarely within an individual’s nature.
After recognizing that I had an affinity for the outdoors, and paying particular attention to the fact that human health is directly affected by the state of the environment, I began dabbling in the field of “environmental health.” Down a winding road I went – starting with an introduction to environmental health through the world of nonprofit grant-making, followed by a Master in Public Health, and then working with several nonprofits.
When I became a mother, my concern for the future health of my children amplified my desire to protect the environment. One of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had yet was having grown into the role of an environmental activist. After recognizing a local threat (an outdated, dangerous nuclear power plant), I dug deep and extricated personality skills I didn’t know I had. Because of this, I was able to organize communities toward action.
Now, though my work as the Manager of the Speakers’ Bureau for Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility is only part-time, it is entirely fulfilling because the goal of the organization is also a goal of mine: limiting the threats of large-scale environmental catastrophes on the human population. How fortunate I am to be able to tie my life goals into my work goals.
#4 – Afsheen
Growing up in the East and completing my education and then settling down in the West, I am amazed at the fact that even with opposing end goals, the measure of success is universal and always a value judgment by others. How the world perceives us and our accomplishments is somehow more important than what we think and feel about ourselves.
My definition of success has evolved over the years, and the current version is that “success is how we value ourselves.” Being content is bliss to me and contentment comes from inside. We are so used to viewing ourselves through the filters of society and judge our successes via these filters as well that we forget who we are, and the discontentment causes a sense of failure.
We all have different callings in our lives and only if we follow what our heart desires are we able to be successful. The idea is to be happy with whatever you are doing and taking pride in doing it. This idea about following your passion has been out there for a while, but we still fall into the trap of the default definition of success which relates to materialism and accomplishments. I’m certainly not against any of these things and hope to accomplish my goals in life, but I strive to have this sense of validation from within because if I start to look at others there are twice as many opinions and reasons to doubt myself.
The most challenging thing for me at this point in my life is how to teach my kids to be content. In this ever-growing world of digital and social media where the success is measured in ‘likes’ and ‘number of followers,’ how do I teach my kids to be happy with themselves. The only way I can think of doing this is to be a role model for them, and it’s not easy. Like most people, I’ve had many challenges in my life. To start each day with this sense that it’s going to be better than yesterday is an uphill task but I am adamant about making it work to the best of my abilities and satisfaction, and that to me is a success.
#5 – Elly
To me, success is about living a purpose driven life. It’s about actively striving to make a positive difference in the world, making conscious decisions, and enjoying the journey along the way. If I can learn and grow, and make a positive impact on the lives of others, I’m meeting my definition of success.
Living a life without regrets or ‘what if’s’ is an integral part of my philosophy. Seeking opportunities and adventure are key components of my life, and I love to inspire others to follow their dreams. For me, it’s not about having a nice car or a big house, and I’ve consciously opted out of that lifestyle in pursuit of freedom. Instead, it’s about feeling fulfilled, excited and happy about the choices I am making each day.
In our family, we’ve set the values of ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘meaningful relationships.’ When we make decisions, we try to ask ourselves whether those decisions fit with both of our family values. This ‘freedom of choice’ helps us to work together as a unit and decide whether to move forward with a decision or think of an alternative.
As a holistic health and fitness coach my goal is to inspire people to make positive, sustainable changes to their health, fitness, and lifestyle. By empowering someone to take control of their health and step by step make decisions that support their goal of a healthy lifestyle, I’m achieving a small milestone in my overall picture of success.
As a family, our current focus is on building a location independent lifestyle. We didn’t wait to make it happen: we simply packed up and took a one-way ticket from our home in New Zealand to South East Asia. We’re working on making our dream a reality and have launched two new websites this year to support our vision. We still have a way to go, but we are super excited to see it all unfold. We’re enjoying the new adventure just because we allowed ourselves to take that first step and go for it.
#6 – Amy
My definition of success revolves around a handful of things in my life: my family, my mental and physical health, my marriage, and my creativity/business.
When I think about my definition of success, the family immediately comes to mind. As a mother of two kids ages 10 & 13, my life has revolved around these now not-so-little people since they were born. Raising healthy, adjusted, happy kids has been my biggest priority, and often my biggest challenge. I feel successful when I know that I’m helping my children navigate their way through this complicated and sometimes scary thing we call life.
Having open and positive relationships with my kids and my husband is of great importance to me. Interpersonal communication has never been my strong suit, so it’s something I have to work at regularly.
Spending time together as a family is important to me. We all have our own things that we enjoy in life, but, especially as my children get older, making sure that we come together regularly is a goal.
In addition to family, my personal health (physical and mental), as well as feeling fulfilled creatively also defines my view of success. It is very important to me to take time almost every day to exercise, spend time outside (even if it’s in my own yard), and work on my jewelry business. Making earrings, which is in large part my creative outlet, also helps me contribute a bit financially to our family.
My biggest current challenge is a bit personal in nature as it involves helping one of my children with their mental/emotional health. I also have the ongoing challenge of working on my communication with my husband. In addition, I am always trying to expand my earring business — by making more designs, reaching out to local businesses and growing my online presence via Etsy and social media.
#7 – Natalie
Success for me means the freedom to follow my professional passions while also creating a fulfilling personal life. I have always been a creative thinker who yearned for wide open spaces, fresh writing pads, and the ability to share my voice with the world, so it’s no wonder that I didn’t go down the traditional college-business suit-retirement track.
In my early 20s, I wanted to be a lawyer, so I enrolled in law school, and promptly realized that it was not the career for me. Ten months (and lots of soul searching) later, I enrolled in an English master’s degree program and fell in love. From there, I honed my skills as a college adjunct professor, a job that I loved and one that gave me the flexibility to still travel and spend plenty of time with my husband.
After I found out that I was pregnant with our first child, I wanted something that was even more flexible: I’d always considered working for myself, but making that transition was tough without a motivating factor. Tentatively, I began to look for freelance writing work and was able to start bringing in a few jobs here and there. After my daughter was born, I began to focus on ways to include my then-hobby blog into my writing portfolio and spent countless hours reading about how to build and grow a blog.
I now have two young kids, a growing travel blog, and more work than I can generally handle on a daily basis, both from a parenting perspective and from a business standpoint. The struggle to balance these two portions of my life are my biggest focus in my quest for true personal success: I ultimately would love to have a career that allows my family and I to travel around the world together. Having the financial security to give those experiences to my kids, my husband, and I while simultaneously writing about it would be the ultimate way that I would define success.
#8 – Amanda
Success, to me, is not measured by a bank balance, or by becoming Prime Minister or the head of a huge company. It’s much more complicated, and something that changes form pretty regularly.
On the whole, however, success to me is a feeling that I’m making a difference with my work. I like to juggle a few hats – it keeps me enthusiastic – so I tilt into several differences over time. In my job as social media and blogging consultant and trainer, success means I help the clients I work with to feel confident about sharing their business online and doing it in a way that is a win-win for everyone. As a travel podcaster and blogger, success means I encourage people to travel more and to reflect on the many amazing personal development benefits that traveling can give you.
While I might find it hard to define precisely what success means, I know how it feels. When I’m successful, I get so excited inside, and sometimes outside, and I jump and squeal. I’m not kidding. When I finish putting together a great podcast episode that I know will help change someone’s attitudes to travel, I hop and skip around the house with genuine glee.
When I wrap up a workshop where I can tell that I’ve reached someone in a way that will completely change how their business goes, I hop in my car and scream with joy. I really do! If I don’t get this feeling for a while, I know it’s time to adjust my goals. I guess if I can continue finding and reaching for goals that give me this ecstatic feeling of success, then that will be a life well-lived.
#9 – Daisha
My definition of success began with learning the hard way that I couldn’t let others define it for me. At the time in my life when I was most “successful” by external standards, I had a job related to my degree that paid more money than I’d ever made before and included a fancy “director” title. What it did not include was joy, not for me or anyone I cared about.
In the middle of all that, a friend died after a long illness. She didn’t have a prestigious career that paid well, but hundreds of us showed up to her funeral because of how deeply she’d impacted our lives. It was jarring to realize that so much of what I was investing in didn’t matter too much when it was held up to the light of something that did.
Shortly after her funeral, I gave up my job with no idea what was next. It was humiliating and hard, and I felt like a failure for tearing it all down. Ultimately, though, tearing it all down has made room for other things to grow, including a new way of defining success. Success, now, is when I am well and when I contribute to the wellness of others. Success is nurturing, success is generosity, success is practice, success is continuing to grow. Success is still hard work, but many of my old metrics (e.g., completing projects or achieving goals) now seem like side effects of success rather than its essence.
This has been fertile ground for some good things. One of my current projects is helping to fund a land preservation project that will permanently protect 300+ acres of historic farmland, forest, and wetlands for generations to come. Another thing I’m doing is putting time each day toward writing a book, and all those words are finally adding up! Perhaps most importantly, I’m actively supporting each of my three kids in reaching a goal they have. Just touching these things counts as success for me; and they all include joy, which is a pretty great bonus.
GRIT VERSUS COMMUNITY
Of the many things that I find so satisfying about these nine insider looks at success, are the common threads of environment, health, and community. Especially, community. Be it an inner circle of family and friends or the broader circle of spirituality and the world.
When we see our success as part of a community effort, we feel greater happiness and connection. We connect with each other, and we contribute to our collective success. Stronger together. Community success is something that not only women but that our world desperately needs.
As an American, my upbringing taught me to value rugged individualism. And as a parent, I am infatuated with the concept of GRIT, because I want my kids to be successful. But let’s look at this idea of success a bit further. You may have heard of the marshmallow test. When first carried out the researchers decided that kids that could wait for a second marshmallow already had the personality traits that led to success.
The Marshmallow Test In Community
More recently they redid the study in Germany and Cameroon. Do you know what the new results show? The kids that could wait for a second marshmallow grew up in environments that taught them to trust their community — to trust the adults in their lives. The kids that ate the marshmallow right away? They didn’t believe they’d get a second one. In other words, by the age of 3 or 5 years old, kids’ success is already influenced not just by their GRIT, but rather by their faith in their community.
Humans are social animals and from birth we rely on other humans to succeed, while also contributing to the success of our family. We never do it totally alone. And so, when you are feeling down and out, and wondering how you can do it ALONE, find a way to reach out to your community instead. In community, in service to others, you will receive the support and the strength to find and define success. No one should have to “go it alone.”
And so, my dear friends, I’ll confess that this has been a bit of a deceptive exercise because our “personal” success is not truly personal, is it? Our success relies upon our community of support and we contribute to the success of those around us.
Success is an inclusive, not an individual experience.
Click to Tweet
Success is an inclusive, not an individual experience.
I am aching to know, after reading this has your definition of success changed? Do you see yourself in a better light? Do you now envision ways that you can increase your sense of self-contentment by cultivating your community?
For more on these amazing Xennial women follow the links:
My father, Bill Border, started his life as an artist around the age of 7 or 8 with simple pencil and a legal pad from his dad’s office. When you ask him why he sketches and paints, he responds that he is “simply driven to create.” Growing up as his daughter, I know this to be an honest answer.
Driven to Create
Not only did I watch my father illustrate biology textbooks and interpretive panels until late at night, painting on the weekends, I watched him create in all other aspects of his life. He cared for our mountain home just as if the property belonged on a canvas.
Every brick on our patio he laid to perfection in a perfectly leveled bed of sand. The bricks alternating direction to create a pleasant patchwork pattern. As a kid, my parents paid me a penny per weed-pulled to keep this master piece clean and sully free.
If my mom or I left a grocery list or note on the kitchen table, we returned to find it illustrated with a comical character and an appropriately goofy message. Or sometimes he simply copied our handwriting so perfectly, that we didn’t realize he’d added “56 sardines” after the milk and bread on our list.
My grandmother collected smooth rocks, which she kept in a planter in the corner of her living room. Periodically, they’d appear perfectly painted, a little grey mouse or a bunny with whiskers, peaking out of the greenery…
Make your bed.
A video traversed the web a few weeks ago profiling a graduation speech by a respected general. Start the day by making your bed and you will have already accomplished one task.
This is also my father’s mantra and perhaps alongside his drive to create, the the second indicator of his lifetime success as an artist.
Each night, my father prepares a to-do list on a small yellow legal pad. He preps his coffee machine with fresh water and coffee grounds. And he goes to bed.
In the morning, the very first thing he does is make his bed. If you knock on his door even a few minutes after he wakes up, you’ll never know he slept the night before. The bed will have already been made with military precision.
Before he gets in the shower he lays out his uniform for the day. The outer layer will vary depending on his plans, but the underlayer never changes. Each morning he selects from his dresser drawer, a neatly folded white crew neck tagless undershirt, white boxers, and white socks, rolled up military style.
Maintain a Routine
During my early childhood my dad laid these items out on his bed, before he got in the shower. During my late teenage years a feisty Himalayan cat named Thani joined our family. My dad adored the cat. The cat adored stealing my dad’s socks, while he was in the shower.
Ultimately, my dad had to relocate his socks to the top of his dresser. A few years ago he confided in me that he is such a creature of habit that even though Thani passed over the rainbow bridge a decade ago, he continues to layout his socks up high on the corner of his dresser.
Practice Makes Progress
My dad is now 84. Except for the past few years of his life in which he has unfortunately had to spend a few nights here and there in the hospital, my dad has created art everyday of his life. As his daughter, I can recognize his brush stroke in an instance, but I am continually surprised by the works that come out of his studio.
Recently I heard a rephrasing of the old idiom “practice makes perfect.” The new idiom is “practice makes progress.” I think my dad is the epitome of this philosophy. The act of painting is never to create perfection, but rather as my dad says, “to capture a fleeting moment in time, realistically frozen or perhaps an abstracted essence that flows eternally.”
Whatever you want to be or do. Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for progress. Work on it everyday that you can. And you will arrive.
Lost and Found
Bookworms and bibliophiles love books. Foodies love food. Oenophiles love wine. As a logophile, I love words. Can you guess my favorite word of all? I’ll give you a clue: at the age of 21 this Colorado girl found love in Madagascar. And then as a result of distance (oceans and continents), time and circumstance, it became a love lost. 12 years later I found it again. Retrouvaille definition: In French “trouver” is to find something. Add the prefix “re” and you “re-find” something. Retrouvaille thus refers to a friend that you have found again, but not just any friend, a bosom-buddy, a BFF, someone who “get’s you.” In English, we find the words to represent these close friendships, but we lack any truly “retrouvaille feeling words” in English, which means that we’ll just have to use the French!
Logophiles love words.
Yep, that’s me. I am a logophile.
As a logophile, I can quickly get excited about the etymology or the origin of a word. I am fascinated by words that exist in one language, but not in others. And, I adore words that have slightly different nuances. As a student of anthropology, I also tend to note how vocabulary reflects the differences between languages and cultures. It’s an inside game for me to modify my word choice to suit my audience, be they American, English, South African or Australian. My thesaurus is a reliable and dog-eared friend. Tragically, my love of words nearly spelled death for my career as a writer. Thankfully, the experience of retrouvaille presented me with the time and the situation to reflect and find my path home, back to the written word.
This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. Any purchase you make through an affiliate link on Alibcandid generates a small commission for me at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
How my logophilia prevented me from becoming a writer.
Logophilia & Lover’s Quarrels
As a logophile, I confess that I am apt to get a bit snippy over how people use words. The connotation of a word is critical! If someone (up there) is keeping a tally, the record indeed shows that I am willing to defend the virtue and intent of my word choice. Disagreements of course often stem from misunderstanding — if only everyone paid attention to word choice, perhaps we’d have world peace!
Logophilia comes into play in my life as I search for words to express the perfect meaning or make an underhanded joke (or insult). I am also concerned with the implications and connotations of words. Contextual intersectionality, for example, is an excellent example of how word choice can help us to acknowledge or deny another person’s experience. By definition a logophile, of course, loves words. The root word of “logo” hailing from the Greek verb “to love.”
Logophilia definition: By definition a logophile, of course, loves words. The root word of “logo” hailing from the Greek verb “to love.” Logophilia is then the act of loving words, but also the act of wordplay. When you love words, you can’t help but also play with them!
One of the reasons I love my husband so much is that he also loves words and meaning. He is particularly fond of word jokes with subtle sexual undertones. He too adores riddles that trick people (usually our kids) into saying or doing something silly. One of his favorites is a line of questioning about Napolean’s horse that concludes with most neophytes responding that cows drink milk (not water)!
Some couples argue about finances or the kids, while our most heated and memorable disagreements often center on words. Notable debates include the following words: silly, indigenous, and mammal. Not all on the same day or even the same week mind you, and yet these were severe disagreements involving dictionaries, raised voices, and internet research.
For better or worse, my arguments with my husband over the connotation of words and appropriate vocabulary choice is not a solitary experience. I’ve been getting into trouble over words my entire life. From the time I spent a morning in the quiet room as a three-year-old, to just last week!
A Personal Retrouvaille: Me, Myself and I
Sometimes our best friend is not waiting to be found, but already inside. Rediscovering my love of writing and embracing my love of words is like rediscovering a best friend. Finding purpose at my keyboard is exhilarating. And helping others to find themselves through words and language is inspiring.
I have arrived. I am home. I might be feeling a bit precocious.
If you need to say something with words, but can’t find the right ones or are not sure what to say, ask me, I am at your service.
The Greatest Retrouvaille of All
We are not yet at the end of the story. The most noteworthy reason for my love of the word retrouvaile, is that my husband is the greatest retrouvaille of my life. We first met in 1998. I’d flown half-way around the world from Colorado to Madagascar for my semester abroad.
While in Madagascar, I lived with my husband’s family, falling in love not only with him, but with his entire family. The experience changed me forever on a spiritual and an intellectual level. But at the age of 21 I didn’t really believe in true love nor did I know how to make an international relationship work.
Fast forward 12 years and my husband decided to take a road-trip across the United States. The moment we saw each other the electricity flew. The greatest retrouvaille arrived at my front door and life forever changed. Not only did we find a way to write our own story, but the experience cracked me open in a way that continues to provide opportunities for me to grow and discover.
Do you have a retrouvaille story of your own? Are you a logohpile? Share your stories of retrouvaille or the written word below — I want to know!
Goal Setting: How to live a life you love!
Step into Your Fear and out of your Comfort Zone
To find a real sense of success, you must step out of your comfort zone.
You must risk vulnerability. To pair success with happiness, you must also set goals.
To risk failure is how you win big.
Achieving your goals also means you need a plan and a vision. And you need to be clear about your values. Sometimes you need to forget about the “shoulds” and instead focus on the points that cause you discomfort.
You will note that I put “should” in italics. Why? Because “should I” is a dangerous meandering path when goal setting. “Should I” or “I should” phrases indicate actions that we take to fulfill someone else’s expectation of us.
As a young person, I went to university because my parents said: “I should go.” Many of us that go to university go because we should. Now, I don’t mean to say that going to university is a terrible idea, but if you are going to spend four or five years of your youth and countless dollars on a university campus, then you better darn make it count.
Too often we go to university to just “to learn” or because we want to follow our hearts, but we don’t sit down and start day one with a specific goal in mind. We think that obtaining a bachelor’s degree is enough.
We go, and we finish university because studies show that those with a bachelor’s degree earn more money than those without and those with a master’s degree make even more. And so our parents and society and everyone else tell us that to be successful, we should go to college.
And yet, we have the famous college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Jobs and Gates had goals. They had a plan coupled with the intelligence and the willpower to go it alone. They took a significant risk; they stepped out of their comfort zone. Dropping out of college makes us vulnerable. Staying in school is the comfortable, easy path. But not everyone is a Jobs or a Gates.
Read about Bill Gates on his website.
Why should I go to University?
Think about it. In the long run, it is much easier to stay in school than it is to drop out. Univesity graduates make more money and have a more comfortable path. But earning a degree will not necessarily deliver job satisfaction or a reliable paycheck.
Why should I go to university?
Be clear about your intentions. Why are you going? Do you need to change your goals?
When you talk to “adults” it is surprising how many people slog along every day unhappy and dissatisfied. These people demonstrate what happens when we follow the rules too closely.
Many of these dissatisfied folks checked off all the “shoulds haves” on the list, but they also avoided the “shouldn’t haves.” They stayed in the comfort zone and played by the rules. And now they are jaded adults. Don’t listen to them.
At the same time, Jobs and Gates may not have graduated from university, but this doesn’t mean that should quit university or skip it all together. My point is that you need a goal, a plan.
You need a plan.
You need to know why you are doing what you are doing. You’ll recall that Jobs and Gates both had a plan. And, you will also notice if you look at the Fortune 500 list there are more people on the list with degrees than without. Most of us are not brilliant geniuses with unique ideas like Apple. Finishing university does make sense for must of us. Usually.
You need to set 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals. You need to look at who can help you achieve your goals. What is blocking your way? You need to find answers to the following questions:
- What will I do when I finish university?
- Why am I taking specific classes? Will these classes serve me after university?
- Who is my mentor? Or where can I find a mentor?
- What experience can I get now that will help me later? Internship? Volunteer? Research project? Hobby
How should I decide on my major?
What will challenge you, but also be exciting? What courses will make you jump out of bed in the morning?
What do you find yourself chattering away about at a party? Or when calling your grandmother?
What kind of people do you enjoy spending time with? Not who do you THINK you should spend time with, but what kind of people make you happy?
Who am I?
If you need direction, taking a career assessment, strength finder or personality assessment (or all of those as mentioned above) can also be very useful. Personally, I like the Strengths Finder book and test, because the idea is to explain to you your strengths and how they work together. I didn’t take this test until the age of 33, and it changed my life.
Read more about StrengthsFinder 2.0
If I’d taken it at age 20, perhaps I’d have stepped out of my comfort zone much earlier! Self-understanding and appreciation are vital to career success.
Today, there are also many online “free” personality type tests. These can be taken for fun, but I am weary of these free tests when making a career decision. Ideally, I recommend taking personality tests as part of a class or workshop through careers services or an association.
Next best, is to find and take an actual test online and or buy the book. You can self-grade and assess. The Myers-Briggs personality type, for example, is well known, well used, and easy to understand. There are knock-off versions for free, but I highly recommend (and I am not associated or paid by them in any way) taking the real test!
Note that a personality type test is not the same as a Strengths test. One shows what you are natively good at, the other shows how you like to work. Different personality types may have the same skills and strengths. Not everyone in your field will work or think just like you.
Unique and Indirect Paths Can be Good
Maybe your chosen field of study will be different than your first, second or third career path. This discrepancy is not a bad thing. You can study biology or film and still end up on Wall Street or with the CIA. But you need to be intentional. You need to know why you do what you do and when. You need to make sure you have the skills that your future career requires.
Life is a journey, and it is okay to change directions, but the most successful people know why they take certain turns. And they can explain that change to their future boss.
Live a Life you Love: Don’t Settle for Comfort
I had a happy youth. Nothing fancy, but I grew up in a nice home in the mountains outside of Boulder. My father built much of it with his own hands. My mother worked at the University of Colorado. My grandparents lived nearby (Boulder and Steamboat). Our small extended family kept us close. My older brother showed up from time to time bearing gifts (watermelons, ice cream, and truck stop oddities) and I never wanted for anything.
I never knew hunger or poverty, except in tales. I saw divorce, but I never witnessed it personally. I saw death, but with older family (grand and great-grandparents) it was a natural progression for loved ones who had lived good lives and been loved.
I lived a life without fear or adversity. When I graduated from high school, I did exactly what I should do to maintain that comfort. I moved my life in a safe direction. And I met with relative success, in the relative security of a life lived on the foundations built by my ancestors and my fellow Americans.
In other words, safe actions plus a lot of good luck meant I achieved relative success in my career. For this, I am grateful because many people in the world do not experience this type of luck and opportunity.
The thing is, to find happiness and to achieve our full potential in life, we need to break out of our comfort zone. We need to experience discomfort. Strength and lessons can come from encountering and conquering adversity. Building a career we love, to live a life we love, requires intention and a little discomfort along the path. Discomfort is okay. It is in fact normal.
Whether you live a life of luck or a life of difficulty. Whether you feel your life is blessed or cursed, we can all benefit from setting goals. And everyone should learn to step out of our comfort zone and visit the unfamiliar. If something makes us feel uncomfortable, rather than ignoring the discomfort, this is a perfect time to step back and try and identify the cause.
Learning from our discomfort teaches us about ourselves and about other people. To live a life we love, we must address the uncomfortable moments in our lives and open ourselves up to vulnerability. People who never learn to address discomfort end up addicts, jaded adults or generally content to live lives of “blah.”
Breaking out of the Comfort Zone
As I wrote about in my piece on Turning Points, after a time, I found myself content and secure, but unhappy. Does this sound like anyone you know? To find my happiness, I started to be more intentional with my life. And I did this, by intentionally breaking out of my comfort zone. I started to do things that scared me. I started to allow myself to be vulnerable. I quit a secure job to move overseas. The list goes on…!
Sometimes one of the greatest ways to learn about ourselves and to break out of our comfort zone is to travel. Maybe you need a gap year abroad. Perhaps you need a semester abroad. Maybe you just need to take a road trip over summer vacation. If you have not traveled much outside of your home time, I highly recommend hitting the road before you graduate from university. Ideally, overseas.
Read more about setting goals as a university student in Turning Points: Your Career Decision-Making Guide (3rd Edition)
I realize that a lot of what I am talking about here may just sound like a bunch of semantics and plays on words, but words and semantics are important. To achieve happiness and success in life, we need to know what we value. We need to make a distinction between what we value and what we think we should be doing. We need to set goals and live intentionally. We can’t just go with the flow because eventually we will either bump up against a damn or we will get lost at sea.
We need to understand our personality type and we need to embrace that type. You may may not find that your personality type is the same or very different from that of your parents or your key parental figures. Understanding the difference between extroverts versus introverts, thinkers versus sensors is useful not only personally, but also professionally. You need to know how you work so that you can work will with other people. You need to know how you work, so you can live a life you love.
Goals versus Intentions
To me, a goal is something that I want to achieve, whereas an intention is an action I take that aligns with my values and moves me towards my goals. When I divorced, I had no choice but to break out of my comfort zone and start stepping into things that caused me fear and uncertainty. Surprisingly, the hardest experience of my life (divorce) has ultimately brought me great happiness and deep personal awareness.
It has also opened up the possibility for me to experience great and abundant gratitude. I think that those who have watched me and who have been inspired by what I have achieved. The lesson learned here is that by setting goals and taking intentional actions, even adversity can be overcome and happiness found.
My overarching life goal is to live intentionally. I work each year on setting my personal, professional, and financial goals and I encourage you to do the same. Achieving goals and setting goals is not easy. First, you need to be honest with your current situation. Next, you need to know what you want to achieve and then you need to be able to visualize how you are going to get where you want to be. It takes more than simple intentions to achieve big: you won’t achieve your goals without a strategy, vision, follow-through, and intention.
Live a Life you Love: Goal Setting and Your Career
Many of us see employment as a way to make money to finance the things we like to do. I believe this is a big mistake. When you spend more of your time working than doing anything else, you really need to make sure that your work is aligned with your values and that you don’t work to live, but that you live to work.
Setting goals helps you to personally ensure that you live a life that you love and that you have the financial resources to do the things you love! Deciding what you want to study and why you are going to university or a trade school or any other career path is one of the most important decision and goals you can make.
Still feel stuck? Think You Need a Miracle?
Sometimes, we do need someone or something to kick us into action. A little miracle action. This is why step-by-step processes can be so useful. In 2011, after my divorce, I found myself in a funk. I loved my job, I loved my son, but I didn’t feel happy, and I couldn’t find my gratitude. Around this time, hot off the presses, May Cause Miracles, by Gabby Bernstein came across my path.
The book is structured so that each day you read a small “lesson” and then you set an intention. Truly, all it is is small, subtle shifts that change your mindset. At the end of 40 days, I’d rediscovered my purpose and I left for work each morning with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I understood all the little miracles in my daily life and how to create bigger miracles.
Set goals. Forget the “should I’s?” and instead lay out the steps that will allow you to follow your passion. If you are in a funk, take action to get out of that funk. Your life is yours alone to live, so live it well and honor yourself!
If you liked this piece, please discuss, comment and share!