Once you’ve decided that chasing societal expectations, or just expectations you adopted from someone else without checking in with yourself, doesn’t work for you – now you have to define success for yourself, in your terms. Sounds exciting and simple enough at first – but I certainly got overwhelmed by it. Do I define it by career goals, family goals, money goals? Feelings, travel experiences, community involvement and donations? Is it defined by how well I work through the journey of motherhood? There are so many options! My approach allows for flexibility in how you pursue success and when you achieve it, which is part of what makes it work.
I think success is about making sure everything aligns with my values – all my daily activities, career moves, family life, community involvement, etc. I can pretty easily define my core values and they’re relatively consistent. In my experience, it’s best to have 4-5 core values. But if you’re like me and that’s too limiting, you can do like I have – 5 senior values and 5 supporting values. This gives them a sort of ranking to make it easier to manage. Also, I sometimes swap a similar word for another because that word resonates more – for example, I’ve had the “magic of life” and “spirituality” as interchangeable values, depending on my current state of mind. But the intent behind my values stays consistent. These values feed into the roles I have in life and what steps I take in my career, in motherhood, and in this writing endeavor. It determines which community involvement activities I commit to, what social events I host or attend, and what relationships I prioritize and when. It helps me be clear on what type of money, travel, and career goals I work towards – and what level of intensity I pursue them with.
For example – I have a value of whole-person health. That means physically, mentally, emotionally. That means making time for all of them – fitness classes (I’m a Peloton girl), healthy food choices, alone time to recharge. But I also have a value of family focus – so I don’t turn down sharing that brownie with my youngest, and I do a shorter class to also have time to build legos with my oldest. I make choices to balance all my values. I value being ambitious in my life – so I pursue my career and my writing goals wholeheartedly. But rather than trying to achieve the next step in 1-2 years (which is doable, but a lot of work) – I aim for 3 years, so I have time to focus on other goals as well. I also make sure to work for a company that supports work-life balance, encourages community involvement, and allows me a say in the speed and direction of my career.
I have values of giving back to my community and travel experiences with my family, so I have goals around saving, income, career growth to support those. However, the goal of higher income or the next career step is in support of those more important values – so I never work for more money or career growth at the expense of family time or capacity for community involvement. My career and income is in support of the bigger values – that means they come in second place, and if there needs to be a choice made between – my values win. My bigger values of helping people, experiencing the wonder of the world and allowing my kids to do the same, of being present with my family – those always win. Even if it means turning down an opportunity, saying no to things that I do enjoy (like lots of girls nights, shopping trips) – so that the bigger, more important things happen long-term.
So I define success by living my values in all the small and big parts of my life. In the big and small choices, the direction I choose to go forward in. I evaluate my success by evaluating each day, week, month, and year for alignment with my values, and that all my values were given times of importance. Is every day perfect? No. Defining success on my own terms doesn’t mean I escape failure. Failure is part of growth, so that’s not the purpose here. The purpose is to wake up happy about my life, in the big and small things, and to feel like I’m making choices for me – not based on societal pressures.
This definition of success allows me a lot of flexibility – which is so good for a working mom. I am home with a sick kid today, for example, so I’m definitely not doing all the work stuff I planned to do after being on vacation and to start the month off strong. I am putting the value of family first, and then using the change in schedule to focus on other goals – like writing this blog, enjoying summer sunshine, and taking time for yoga to stretch after road trip life. I’m still in line with my values, I’m still making progress. This also gives me the flexibility to pursue things as they come up and call to me – like doing the Peloton Summer Launch Challenge and tying it to my yoga and cardio fitness goals. I don’t generally aim for daily workout, as part of my health value, but I will for July – and I’ll flex my time and focus to do that for a month.
A value-driven life has led to me having a career I love, time to pursue my passions, and the ability to put my family first. It requires a lot of reflection, awareness, and effort – but it’s always worth it. It gives me a clear way back when life gets crazy and I’m off track, too. It gives me flexibility in what I pursue, when and how I do it. My values are my definition of success.
Can you define your values, and determine what success looks like by lining up with your values? I think you’ll find that if you set aside some time dedicated to it, it flows easier than you think. Just listen to your own heart and mind – no outside influence.