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Running My Own Race

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I grew up in a family of women who did extraordinary things that earned them legacies as path breakers and pioneers. While I wasn't pressured to follow their lead, I had a strong desire to do so in an effort to "measure up." It wasn't until my 40th birthday that I redefined success for myself... and quitting my job was just part of that journey.

My grandmother graduated from college in 1936, established a Home Economics program at Andhra Pradesh University in India, and served for 14 years in the Kansas State Legislature as the representative for Dodge City. She was the first female Democrat, introducing over 100 bills.

My mother was the first woman in the Big Ten to be the CEO of a university alumni association. Her 25-year legacy as a tireless advocate for the University of Minnesota became a model for organizations at a national and international level.

The concept of "leaning in" was practically a birthright.

I followed suit by excelling in academics, athletics and music. I continuously strived to get the "A" or the first place ribbon. After college, I worked for a Fortune 500 company and made my way up the corporate ladder, with steady promotions and pay increases. By the time I was 40, I was making a salary I had only dreamed of, with a great deal of professional responsibility.

I had created a life that looked great on paper. In doing so, I put too much value on how I performed and I placed too much emphasis on what others thought of me. I didn't question whether the path I was taking was my own, or if it was my interpretation of what others thought I should do. It was stressful and unfulfilling.

I knew that I couldn't figure out my next move while working 70 hours a week, so I quit my job.

It was the equivalent of taking a leap and trusting that a safety net will appear. My husband was the sole breadwinner and I was without a salary for the first time since babysitting as a teenager. This was both scary and exhilarating.

I gave myself the time and space to really think about what made me happy. I found two amazing teachers who alternately challenged and supported me throughout this process. A steady practice of inspirational reading, writing, yoga, running and cooking classes led me to feel more anchored from within.

During this time I encountered a story about Marlo Thomas that was profoundly impactful. She was making her Broadway debut and nervously contemplated the inevitable comparisons to her famous father, Danny Thomas. His advice was a priceless gift.

He said, "I raised you to be a thoroughbred. When thoroughbreds run, they wear blinders to keep their eyes focused straight ahead with no distractions, no other horses. They hear the crowd, but they don't listen. They just run their own race. That's what you have to do. Don't listen to anyone comparing you to me or to anyone else. You just run your own race."

Running your own race ensures a definition of success that is authentic and satisfying. In putting the blinders on and valuing who I was to myself first, I became the author of my own life.

I decided that I loved working, but wanted more balance. Freelancing in marketing communications gives me smaller paychecks, but I still get the same high when I've produced something meaningful. I also started a volunteer organization and have found that "doing good" for others connects me with the public service path that my mother and grandmother inspired.

When I think of the word "journey," I tend to envision a faraway place. Yet, in learning to define success for myself, it meant showing up where I already was -- which reminds me of the advice Glinda gave to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: "Home is a place we all must find. It's not just a place where you eat or sleep. Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we're always home, anywhere."

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.