04/28/2014 06:24 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

Learning to Create My Own Definitions


According to Merriam-Webster, success is defined as:

  • • the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame
  • • the correct or desired result of an attempt
  • • someone or something that is successful : a person or thing that succeeds

Growing up, I (like many others) was told the path to success, as defined above, looked like this: Study hard, do well in school, graduate, get a good job and work your way up the career ladder. I had seen countless people around me take this same path, so I accepted this as what was needed in order to achieve "success."

Fast forward to where I am today -- in my late 20s, living in New York City, working my way up the career ladder after spending years studying hard, doing well in school, graduating and getting a good job -- and I have realized two things:

1. This path is just one of many.
2. Merriam-Webster, or any other dictionary for that matter, cannot define success for me. I need to determine how I view success and what the next steps in my path will look like.

The definition of success that I grew up with, the one ingrained in me from the very beginning, worked well for many people. But in today's hyperconnected society and unstable economy, one only has to look at how exhausted and busy we are to see that this path isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Throw in the lack of vacation and our difficulty with unplugging and it feels like we are past due to reevaluate what we are working toward and how we are getting there.

For me, I decided it's time to create my own definitions -- for success, yes, but also for those other terms and phrases that are discussed and dissected to no end. For example, balance: What does it mean to me to have balance or the often-debated "having it all." As someone who considers herself personally and professionally ambitious, this notion of "having it all" as defined by society is quite frankly a lot of pressure, and most of it, I suspect to be unnecessary so it's time to redefine.

To start, I have first acknowledged that determining what my own definitions will look like is not something I can schedule into my calendar and have completed in a day. It would be convenient if I could set aside a lunch hour, sit back and say, "OK, definition of success: Go," and it's all figured out by the time I need to get back to work. Rather, I know it's a process that begins with my values. I once read that decisions in life should be about what kind of person you want to be and what kind of life you seek to create for yourself. As I have gotten older, the person I want to be and the life I seek have become more crystallized. I can say with conviction that I value family and quality relationships above all. I value a life of worthwhile experiences and thought-provoking moments. I value being able to step away and recharge, and I value the ability to choose those values.

Knowing this, I have started inching my way toward my own definitions of success, balance and having it all. It's taken much, much longer than a lunch hour, and I'm not sure when the process will end (if it ever does) or what the path will ultimately look like, but the important thing is that I'm not looking to others to tell me what success is. I am figuring that out for myself.

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