04/08/2015 12:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Success Isn't a Number

I remember one of my old bosses stating that he didn't like the 'stampede' each day at 5.30pm when most of the office would finish their shift. It was clear that favor shone on those who got to their desk early and stayed there until late. Additional points were scored by working through lunch and not taking coffee breaks.

I bought into this theory. I was actually too scared not to. Recently divorced with more debt than was comfortable, I had an unhealthy fear of losing my job. I hadn't yet learned that I was no more defined by my job than I was by my failed marriage, my childhood or my clothes. Or indeed any of the other attachments that I thought created the sum of who I was.

At that time, everything about my life was unhealthy. As soon as I walked in the door each night I poured a glass of wine. The first of a few. I smoked too much. My weight had plummeted and I secretly liked the concern from friends and family that I had gotten too thin. My self esteem was wrapped up in the numbers displayed on the bathroom scales that I stepped on every single day.

My version of success was measured by my weight and my work. I strived to have a low number of the former and a high amount of the latter. Being seen to be busy (and therefore important) was my raison d'être.

Smartphones had just arrived on the scene and the thrill of being connected to work at any hour was one that I relished. I could be the first one to reply to an email at 11pm. Didn't that show dedication? I could still display my commitment out of hours.

The sad thing was that although this behavior wasn't rewarded, it was still expected.

Equally sad is the fact that such an expectation was very much the norm, and still is, amongst many professional bodies. The daily grind for the majority is far from an eight hour day.

So why do we do it?

One of the biggest issues we face in modern day society is that we over commit. Physically and financially. We dedicate so much time chasing the illusion of success that we lose sight of whether or not our efforts truly leave us feeling fulfilled. Consequently we jam up our diaries with dinner dates and functions and we max out our credit cards to pay for the privilege. We buy houses that we often can't afford and take out loans for cars and furniture.

When our credit goes down our panic rises up and we fret more than ever about being out of work.

We desperately chase after what we think will make us happy and we live in fear that our little bubble of security will burst. We work harder to try and ensure that we have a safer grip on all the shiny, gorgeous material possessions and we cling on tighter than ever.

And then, the bubble does indeed burst. Or at least we do.


Living a life fueled by fear is not healthy or sustainable. At some point, something has to give and often the first thing to be affected is our physical well-being. There simply has to be more to a life well lived than years of anxiety followed by illness and an inability to enjoy any of the trimmings that our burn out has paid for.

A great place to start the re-evaluation process is to consider what we want versus what we need. There is a distinct difference.

We need food, warmth and shelter for example, but perhaps we want dinner reservations, tropical holidays and huge houses. Maybe the compromise is having friends over for a meal, an affordable break to a closer destination and being creative with our home decor?

A key element in helping us attain true success is to recognise that balance is key. If our actions are draining our physical energy or our bank account then the chances are that we need to rethink what we're doing. If we find ourselves wired up to work a sixteen hour day and in a perpetual panic if we are not permanently attached to our business phone then, truthfully, we're not winning, despite what our bank balance tells us.

Next time you find yourself committing your time, energy or finances to anything that leaves your balance off kilter then pause, take a moment, consider your choice. Because it is a choice. It may not always be an easy one but most of us do have the freedom of choice in most aspects of our day to day living.

Seek out what makes sense to your soul. Don't be sucked in to the myth that you have to tick a list of checkboxes determined by someone else in order to be successful. Forget what you've been told. Success is honoring the unique truth within you and living your life from that same truth. Success is the song in your heart that you hear each time you give yourself freedom to be who you truly are. Give the gift of love to yourself. Let your truth shine.

Photo credit: David Flores