In my work with young people with attentional and organizational challenges, I’ve spent my career promoting the reality that we all have gifts and challenges and need to define success on our own terms.
A brief moment of self-analysis lead me to understand that, as a teen who grew up in a high pressure, high achievement culture, followed the rules, got into the “right” schools, got the “right” degree none of that stuff made me particularly happy or special.
From an objective standpoint, I’ve achieved what we culturally define as “success.” But the degree, prestige and position never made me happy. Success for me is the freedom to choose. I get to choose how I work, when I work and who I spend my days with. It is a freaking rush. Would I be happier as a VP of a “Big Name Company,” or a professor at “Prestige U?” No way.
I chose Authentic Success
Not so ironically, the idea of authentic success comes from Wilma Bowers, a mom and champion of authentic success. I read about her crusade in this piece in the Washington Post about the high achieving town of McLean, VA, where getting into Harvard is expected and anything less is scorned.
I remember being that teen in that kind of town and how now, 25 years later, it doesn’t mean much in terms of who is “successful” and who is not.
The key, really, is how one defines success. I see friends from high school in prestigious jobs who are miserable and some who decided to be stay at home parents who are super happy. And visa versa. Right?
I figured out a hybrid. I have my own business that allows me to be home with my child when we want and need that to happen.
No one ever offered that to me as a “success formula.” Some people still think it’s whacky or impossible or not a “real job.”
Eh, I shrug off the doubters. Because I’m happy where I am. What others think or feel about my life isn’t my concern.
The truth is real, authentic success is 100% unique. No one can dictate what makes you feel like a success. Not your parents, not your teachers, not your friends. And success is subjective. Mostly, it’s a feeling and a belief, not a state of being or a position. Because, as much as we buy into this story, when we say it out loud, “She lives in Weston, which means she must be a success,” we sound shallow and immature.
If you have a degree from Harvard on the wall and need 3 drinks a night to manage your stress and anxiety, how is that success?
The outer stuff doesn’t matter as much as we hope it would.
This is both good news and bad news.
The good news is, you get to create your success and define your happiness.
The bad news is, you can’t blame some external force when things don’t work out or feel good.
You have great power, which brings all that responsibility.
Isn’t that awesome?
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