Everywhere I look, it seems that everyone is striving to get to that ultimate destination where we can finally feel like we have arrived, that place we head for every day but somehow never reach, that place where we can say, "Yes, I have made it. I am now valuable. I am now worthy. I matter, and now I can be seen for who I really am." This place we all long to reach is disguised in many different forms -- a certain amount of money in the bank, a prestigious job title, a dream home, a new car, an ideal body weight or the next and perfect relationship. But when we decide that our success is determined by these external factors, we are directing our attention to what is important and acceptable to those around us rather than what is important to us as a unique individual. When we make choices based on external expectations, we disconnect from what our heart and soul long for.
I believe that when we strive to reach destinations our culture deems "success," we have bought into a lie -- a lie that needs a light shined upon it because it is causing a tremendous amount of suffering. Merriam-Webster defines success as a favorable outcome or the attainment of wealth. But if in addition to attaining wealth, a favorable outcome is understood only as an external accomplishment, what happens if we don't meet with these "favorable outcomes?" Does it mean we are a failure? Instantly, this makes me think that it's no wonder one in 10 people in our country experience depression and more, and more of us are turning to drugs, alcohol, gambling, overeating, overspending and even suicide. What's even more interesting is that many who appear to be achieving society's "favorable outcomes" are the very ones turning to these destructive behaviors.
So what is really going on here?
We are buying into the lie that success is based on anything outside of us. I can say this with the utmost conviction because I, too, was captivated by this illusion. From an early age, I observed everyone around me obsess about things like money, job status, relationships and body image -- and watching everyone encouraged me to do the same. Even though I remember feeling as if something was very wrong with this way of being, I ignored the feeling, followed the herd and began my search for success in all the wrong places. I forced my way through a few college degrees. I accepted the job that wasn't lighting my fire. I lost 40 pounds and reached my perfect body weight. I went through relationship after relationship, insisting that the next one would bring me the success I longed for. I even moved across the country to find success there.
But I began to notice that with every so-called favorable outcome, I also hit a dead end, only to turn around and search for the next favorable outcome that might fulfill me. At every dead end, I also faintly heard the question, "What now?" Each time, the question became a little louder until it could no longer be ignored. My soul was asking my life's big question.
It looked like I was doing everything right, but I had completely lost sight of my emotional compass. I was feeling empty, lost and confused. Life was showing up exactly as I needed it to get me to feel how defining success by my outer world was not working. Life was showing me that I needed to take responsibility for my own definition of success. I believe that this is true for all of us. If we are running our lives based on someone else's definition of success, how will we ever feel the deep sense of authentic success that is the journey of our unique life?
So for the first time, rather than fighting to change anything outside myself, I took a journey to a place I had never gone before and traveled within. I went home and discovered who I really am, in my heart. I began to redefine myself from the inside out, and with that, I also redefined my understanding of success. This heartfelt and glorious journey has been "successful." How do I know it has been successful? Because of how I feel. Instead of running toward something to find that feeling of fulfillment, I now know that everything I want is already within me. I also know that success is within every one of us and that until we own and embrace the truth within us, we will restlessly search for fulfillment for the rest of our lives.
Today, I experience success as feelings of joy, love and self-empowerment -- not a destination. Success is my ability to go within and connect with my emotional compass, listening and allowing what's being offered within to guide me to my next steps. I have not only needed courage to face beliefs that have kept me limited but also strength to let them go and to step into the experiences that my heart and soul long for. Success is the ability to identify my own truth by paying close attention to the feelings of my heart -- even when they rip me open -- because sometimes we must be broken to become a messenger of authenticity. Success is the willingness to have faith that life is for me, not against me. Success is leading with my heart rather than allowing my fear to keep me still.
Success is a willingness to stand in your unique pair of shoes and to use all the gifts bestowed upon you -- knowing that you are meant to use your gifts to bring light to the darkest places. Success is standing in the conviction of your dreams, and if you don't yet know what they are, then it is taking the time and committing to go inward to uncover them.
Success is the discipline to do what you once thought you couldn't do and the willingness to tell yourself a new story. Success is consciously engaging with life moment by moment and choosing to respond from your truth, love and authentic power. This requires us to commit to ourselves first rather than the rest of the world. We may be asked to admit that we have been traveling on the wrong road because we have taken on the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of others. That is when we forgive ourselves and bring commitment and courage to the work of getting to know who we are.
I have found that there is no better feeling than being an authentic example for others to live their lives from the core of who they really are. I believe that living in our truth brings peace and harmony to the world. We do the best we can with what we know. Maya Angelou says, "When we know better, we do better." I wonder, is it time for you to know better so that you can do better?
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.