I am a success story. I had checked ALL the boxes. All of them. College degree(s!!), climbed the corporate ladder quickly in 4 years, got married and had babies (okay, not in that order…), bought a house, bought a bigger house, took some trips, saved some money. Working full time, parenting full time, studying for required tests for work, pass the tests, cook some dinners, host BBQs, birthday parties, holidays… and the list goes on and on.
But who MADE this list? Who decided that more money, more responsibility, more busy is the goal? Where did these ideas of things to do before you’re 30, 35, 40… before you’re a mom, before the baby is born, before you go back to work – or before you quit your job to stay home – before your kid goes to kindergarten, before they get to high school… to know you’re on track or “making it.” We are so focused on making it, that we even have checklists to see if we’re living life as minimalists and “being present.” I don’t know about you – but I am not living in the moment when I’m working on a checklist.
But I have always been one thing consistently in my life – an over-achiever. If I’m given the expectations, I will exceed them or nearly break myself trying. I do not do anything halfway – if it’s worth doing, I will give it everything I have. So once I understood the expectations I went at it to meet and exceed them. Do all these by 35? I’ll do it by 32. Double my salary in 4 years. Get a master’s degree while working full time and having babies. Be a full-time mom and a full-time corporate career, climb the ladder type. Check the boxes – check check check.
Until I hit a point where people around me kept telling me how well I was doing as a mom, or at work, or how I “seemed to have really made it” and I was just sitting there thinking… made WHAT exactly? I hadn’t “made” anything I was proud of except my family, and half of that was by luck – the universe gave me these amazing boys as children, I certainly didn’t pick them or decide what kind of people they’d be. My marriage and my crazy family were the only thing I had “made” that felt like something worth showing off – and the only thing that hadn’t been about a list of expectations that I wasn’t even sure who created.
So how do you know it’s time to stop and redefine what success looks like for you? Well, any one of these are probably a big warning sign you’re stuck in this muck, but I had to go through and say yes to all of these (in this order, too) over the course of a year before I paid attention.
- Do you have a list of achievements, successes, and things you’ve done – plus a long list of more to do – and just thinking about it is exhausting?
- Are you unsure why you’re chasing that next promotion, that new car, new house, new trip when it doesn’t excite you – it’s just another step to take?
- Are you escaping your life into mindless movies/TV, mind numbing social media scrolling, or books for hours on end? (Yes – books can be a negative escape, I said it!)
- Are you on edge and just searching for or thinking about the next thing you can check off a list even when you’re supposedly living the best part of your life on vacation, with your family, or doing something you usually love?
- Are you sitting in your car wondering multiple afternoons in a row exactly WHAT you made after a couple friends tell you “it looks like you’ve really made it!” as a well-intended compliment?
- Have you been past 2 or 3 glasses of wine in a hotel room on a work trip to a beautiful place wondering who exactly decided this is “the life” and wanting to hunt them down and see if they ever actually SLEEP, or enjoy a bubble bath without over analyzing life, and ask them WHY the list is so long and really impossible for a working mom especially one with a higher than usual amount of anxiety, and does this person also feel like they can never catch their breath and talk in run-on sentences because life is that intense? *deep breath*
…Okay, that last one could be unique to me. I have a lot of my aha! moments on solo trips in hotel rooms, it’s part of my process.
Did you see yourself in any of these? Do you have unending lists of goals that are vague and yet really important – like be a more present mom, be a more efficient employee, be healthier, create family memories and traditions – that are just impossible to do all at once?
Then it’s time. It’s time to let go of expectations and redefine success for you. It is not time to change your name and run away to Fiji and forget all responsibilities and your old life. There is nothing wrong with your old life. It is just that – your old life. As in you are ready to grow and it doesn’t fit you anymore because it’s part of the past. Growth and change can be good – and once you have one (or all) of the realizations above, you can decide what the change will be and get out of the muck.
Success is a fluid concept. It isn’t defined by one person for everyone to live up to. It can and does change over time. You can define it – redefine it – change it nearly completely – refine it – as many times as you need to. And when it comes to your life – the definition is yours and yours alone.
There’s freedom in that – defining your own success and going after it. But for me, it’s a little intimidating, too. If it’s mine, then it’s all on me – I have to define it, live up to it, and if it doesn’t work or doesn’t make me happy, I have to put in the work and make the changes. I have to take the time and give it thought and effort to define it, and then redefine it as life changes and I grow. But here’s the thing – I’m going to put the work in anyway. I’m going to put it in chasing the societal expectations of what success should look like, or I’m going to put in the work on my own definition and vision for it. I’m not often very entrepreneurial (corporate job, climb the ladder gal here, remember?), but in this case – I’d rather do the work for my own ideas than someone else’s.
What about you?