Attempt #3 of my exhale via writing:
How do you define success? It’s a question asked in many contexts, and previously I’ve given a lot of thought to how I would answer it in a job interview. I’ve wordsmithed my way around what I think sounds the most professional and what I consider my greatest successes to date. Usually I land somewhere in the camp of maintaining a growth mindset and helping the team achieve goals, which is true, and I generally find myself most fulfilled when I am effecting positive change for the team. But in reading Between Grit and Grace today, I realized it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Dr. Sasha Shillcut defines success for herself as living authentically and measures her achievements in work and in her personal life against that standard. Rephrased to capture the wisdom of Brene Brown, she lives into her values. I recognize living into my values as living authentically, but never before have I equated it with living successfully. Game changer.
After hours of agony attempting to define my top two values (you don’t get more than two; read Dare to Lead to learn why), I pared everything down to Accountability and Home. I could write a whole blog post on why those are my top two, but it ultimately doesn’t matter for the purposes of using these values to redefine success. The world—secular, capitalistic, egocentric culture that we live in—would judge my success based on my salary, my title, the length of my CV, or even, if measured against millennial standards, my work-life balance or the breadth of opportunities provided to me. By those measures, I have made it. So why do I so often feel like I’m not succeeding? Because I’m not always (or even often) living into my values.
Granted, it’s been a challenging year, with personal and global crises putting Murphy’s Law to shame. But in the midst of it, I have had successes, and it’s apparent that those were the times when I let go of the outside drama and drilled down to what mattered most to me. Green Belt classes and project read-outs? That one is all Accountability. Even when the VP was expecting me to throw in the towel and blame a pandemic, I honored the commitment I’d made to myself. Monday Musings and Motivation? Both in equal measure, attempting to hold myself and my team accountable while still inspiring them to be their best selves in a culture that treasures individuality and uniqueness. When I think back to what hasn’t felt like success, or even those missteps I’d go so far as to name failures, I either dropped the ball on giving my best or using my talents in the most meaningful way (missed Accountability) or I sacrificed relationships or warmth or empathy in the name of accomplishment or task completion (nowhere near Home). What I know without a doubt to be true is that if I live into my values, I can be successful by my own standard, but interestingly also by the standards of the world if that is what I am aiming for. My best, lived as my best self, is good enough.
One could argue that there are many ways to define what has led to success and failure in my recent months, and given the circumstances one could even make a good case that what we previously defined as failure may be reconsidered in light of new obstacles. But what matters to me and how I show up every day is whether I feel like a success. My emotions don’t lie, and they certainly can be a lot more stubborn than logic. So reframing success and giving myself a foolproof way to achieve it every day is a hopeful way to start the next several months. Accountability is my grit, Home is my grace, and that is me living authentically.