I think it’s really easy to mismeasure success. Instead of quantifying it in meaningful milestones, we end up looking to factors that – at the end of the day – are pretty insignificant: professional title or salary. The size of someone’s house. What’s hanging in their closet.
Don’t get me wrong. In some ways, these things do define success – but I think it’s easy to place so much significance on them that you miss what’s really important. I’m super career driven, so I won’t sit here and pretend like I’m not proud of what I’ve accomplished professionally. I’m also not going to pretend that material possessions – like my house – aren’t a marker of success for me. My husband and I bought our home when we were 27 and 25, respectively. That was (still is) a huge marker of success for us.
But over the past few years, I’ve started to place more importance on the small, blink-and-you-miss-them markers of success.
The other week, I was at an event and met someone who had read my work. That alone is a success-marker for me. It means that people actually read my stuff and think it’s good enough to remember my name. But the individual at that event took it further.
“I just started writing and it’s a lot harder than I expected,” he told me. “What advice do you have to help me improve?”
I think I stood there with my mouth hanging wide open for a second. Sure, people have asked me for advice about writing. But never a complete stranger. And never in a (relatively) non-professional setting. I quickly recovered, offered up a few tips, and we both went off on our merry little ways.
Who knows if that guy took my advice. Honestly, I don’t really care. Knowing that someone thought I was good enough at what I do to seek my guidance was HUGE. It definitely goes down on my list of success-defining moments (spoiler alert: I have no such list).
Measuring success in meaningful ways goes beyond outside validation, though. In fact, I think real success is rooted in your own self-confidence.
Take my friend, for example. She and her husband are new parents. They don’t own their home. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her wearing designer brand-anything. And I haven’t the slightest idea how much money they make. But, before their baby was born, my friend told me that she’d be returning to her role as an R.N. at a reputable hospital per diem.
Now, I know there’s 18 billion views and opinions on what moms should and shouldn’t do post-birth. Kind of a “damned if you do (stay home with your new baby), damned if you don’t” situation, right? But the first thing I felt when I heard my friend’s plans wasn’t judgemental – it was impressed. How AMAZING that she and her husband have figured out a way for her to stay home most days with their baby. And how EMPOWERING of my friend to be confident enough – in herself, in her career, in every aspect of her life – to choose to stay home.
To me, it signifies a woman who knows what’s really important in her life. It says, “I’m successful enough in my career to hop off the ladder for a minute without worrying that it’ll all collapse. And I’m confident enough in my decision to send any nay-sayers packing.”
At the end of the day, the number of Louboutins someone has in her closet says squat. But prioritizing the people who matter most – that speaks volumes. And isn’t that kind of success more important than whatever you’ve got on your resume or in the bank?