Recently, I’ve been reflecting and considering the idea of redefining what success means to me. Having spent so much of my early 20s checking off boxes in pursuit of proving myself to the world, it wasn’t until a few big changes happened in my life not so long ago that I realized that some of my definitions of success were not aligned with my values, nor were they making me happy. In fact, as hard as it is to admit, some of them were leading me to abandon myself.
I achieved a lot of long term goals last year. Not only did I graduate from my Master’s degree and get a full time job in a management position earning twice what I did before I did my postgrad, I also bought a car, travelled solo to New York, reconnected with friends who I hadn’t seen much when I moved away, started running and bought a house. All in all, I was doing well. I’d ticked lots of boxes of things that I was supposed to do by my age. In fact, I’d probably even ticked a few more. So naturally I decided to do a bit of a life audit and look at some areas that I could work on. After all, if you’re not working towards something, it is incredibly easy to just stagnate. As I reflected on all of the different areas of my life that meant something to me, and examined what I wanted moving forward, there was one glaringly obvious area of my life that I wanted to work on. A reality that almost everybody at some point in their 20s or 30s has to face: dating.
In normal, pragmatic me style, I concluded that in order to start dating I needed to get out and meet more men. Which was simplified by using the internet. So I set up a series of dates in order to improve my chances of meeting someone suitable to be in a relationship with. Now, at this point, I will acknowledge that this thinking was flawed. When your goal is about just getting into a relationship, rather than building a deep, intimate, trusting connecting with a person in order to see if you can grow in love and build a life together, you know you’re heading down an interesting path. But, in typical me style, using my head to try and outsmart my heart, I managed to do the exact thing that I set out to do. I got into a relationship. An emotionally distant, disconnected, imbalanced relationship with a guy who was nowhere near ready to be in a relationship, but not quite ready to be single, after a very painful end to his previous long-term relationship not long before we met.
Whilst being in a disconnected relationship is definitely a fantastic way to avoid getting too hurt, it is certainly not the foundation for building anything meaningful. But it served a purpose by holding the relationship space in my life and giving me a false sense of accomplishment by being able to tick the “in a relationship” box. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to have someone to go on dates with, to cuddle and to bring to events. And we did have some fun. But somehow, I had gotten so caught up in the notion that just being with someone was making me successful at the whole relationship thing that I failed to see just how incompatible we were.
Did we share the same values about our future? Nope. Did we have lots of common interests? Nope. Did we speak the same love language? Nope. Did I feel wanted or loved? Nope. Did he make it clear several times that his cat was more important to him than I was? Yep. And did I act in a way that demonstrated that somehow I believed that all of this was ok? To tell you the truth, I did.
Most of us chase an elusive idea of success because we think it will bring us contentment. We want to lose weight, get into that relationship, earn that dollar amount, travel to that place because we believe that it will lead us to a destination where we accept ourselves and let ourselves be happy. And, although it’s harder to admit, that we will finally feel accepted by others. We are constantly being bombarded by subtle messages selling happiness through attaining something that we don’t yet possess. All around us there are so many stories of “success” that we use as motivators to spur us into action so that we too can be that smiling person on the screen raving about how much better their life is because of some magical pill (book, speaker, diet etc.) that has made them the balanced, happy person they are today.
For me, I was attributing being able to prolong a relationship that was making me feel pretty lonely with being successful at the whole relationship thing. He didn’t love me, and was not going to because what we had created was a relationship built on a dysfunctional idea of success.
So often we misinterpret our own definitions of what it means to be successful with the stories that we are told. Instead of standing in our truth, we try to fit social standards of success into our success box – even when they don’t properly fit.
The day after we broke up, I felt relieved. Rejected, frustrated at myself, and powerless, yes, but mostly I felt that a weight had been taken off my shoulders, which led me to start to challenge the beliefs that had got me into this position in the first place. It shone light on the problems with my definition of success and ultimately gave me an opportunity to redefine my definition of what I truly wanted, which was not just to be in a relationship, but to be with the right person. A person with whom I am vulnerable and connected with. And although that version of success is much more challenging, I know it is version of success I truly need.
Giving myself permission to challenge my definition of success in relationships has spilled into other areas too – like work, exercise, and some of my creative projects. And the impact that it has had on my peace, fulfillment and approach has been enormous. Even the way I go on dates now has shifted, which has definitely made the process of finding love a lot more organic and fun.
So I invite you to challenge the notions of success that you are holding onto that are holding you back from standing in your truth and living your best life. Sometimes our versions of success are not actually what we think they are. Your version of success may be wildly different to someone else’s – and that’s ok. In fact, that’s normal. Be curious about whether your long-held beliefs about success are even yours.
Ask yourself this?
What does it mean to you to be successful in specific areas of your life and what will it take for you to get there? Why do you have that definition of success?
Whatever it is for you – stand in your truth. And never be afraid to challenge the limiting beliefs that you set yourself. You are enough.