How My Definition of Success Has Evolved

Success is an elusive, subjective concept - not just a proverbial finish line that every career-oriented 20-, 30-, or 40-something must cross at a specific time. I am relieved that, for the first time in history, we are making space for different ideas of what success means. My definition of success has changed over time. In short it has meant: perfection, validation, and finally, freedom. Its meaning has evolved based upon my personal development. I grew out of old definitions that didn’t suit me in order to broaden my perspective and propel me forward into the next phase of life. Now, I love the ability to define success on my own terms instead of what I think being successful “should” be or look like. There aren’t rules to success, as I always thought. Spoiler alert: “success” isn’t a job title, salary amount, certificate, or gold desk plaque - it’s a mindset.

As Sophia Amoruso states at the beginning of each Girlboss Radio episode, “Success: It’s such a complicated idea, and yet for so long, we’ve all collectively subscribed to a single definition of the word, which was likely given to us by a white-haired dude somewhere in a boardroom in the 1960’s. And there’s nothing wrong with that definition, with the notion of climbing a corporate ladder with a singular focus. But it’s time to make space for a few other definitions - for side hustles and well-being, and failing forward, and for the idea that success is a wild ride, not the destination at the end of it.”

Perfection. Growing up with dance as my main focus, I was concerned with little other than perfection. I needed to have pointed toes, turned out feet, delicate hands, with my shoulders back, chest proud, waist in, chin up...should I keep going? This physicality that will forever be burned into my muscle memory would allow me to be impeccably balanced, graceful, poised, and beautiful. Anything less or different was unacceptable, unusual, and unwelcome. It’d cost my spot in the front row or my featured solo. As long as I met the physical expectations of my instructor, my peers, and especially myself, I could easily achieve success. I wish I’d known at the time that success goes far beyond the physical body’s capabilities.

Validation. When I was 22, living in my own studio apartment after graduation, having been promoted at my job, I still longed for success. Nothing was ever enough. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough praise. Not enough fulfillment. I prayed every single night asking when everything would be “worth it”, although I had no idea what that actually meant at the time. I was constantly looking for validation from others to prove to myself that I was successful - instead of believing that I already was. I wish I’d known at the time that there is no roadmap to success and that self-imposed limits are what builds roadblocks in the first place. 

Freedom. 2 years later when I moved to New York, my prayers were answered. Freedom was what made everything “worth it”. From landing my dream job to having my own (much smaller) studio apartment, to discovering the NYC fitness scene, to maintaining relationships with those close to me  - having the freedom to design my own life has been incredibly liberating. For the first time in my life, I took an actual leap of faith. I no longer expected that every single action I took would yield results equal to the amount of effort I put in them. Life is more complex and yet so much more simple than that. I no longer let a title, company, or salary define who I am, and as a result, I’d never felt more creative and inspired to make a difference with my work. I’m not climbing a ladder, I’m building a home. A place I can call my own. A life I am proud of. Why wait til you get to the top of a figurative ladder to start enjoying your success? I’ve integrated my career and my passions so that I can do something I love every day! What’s better than that? 

Success now means that I can’t be put into a box. I’m not striving for perfection or seeking external validation. I feel successful because I am happy. I take care of my mind and body, have healthy relationships, and accept that I’m always a work in progress.