How many years have you spent trying to meet somebody’s standard of success or even chasing society’s measure of success? If you’ve committed a good amount of your life working at a job you hate just to pay the bills, being in a relationship even though it’s unhealthy for you, or working hard to maintain an image of success, you may have compromised on your own happiness and satisfaction.
Being a woman can make this an even more difficult quandary. Some schools of thought say that being a wife and mother is the ultimate goal; others put down the domestic life, and still others urge women that they must have it all: the high-paying job, the family, the body, and the respect of the world all at once. And because women are often caretakers, those who put their goals first are too often derided as selfish. What’s a modern woman to do?
I had a gut instinct about what success meant to me early on—in my case, it was the financial independence of entrepreneurship. I was able to achieve this through a lot of hard work, but I would be lying if I said society’s expectations never got to me along the way. The truth is, it can take a while to extract our own goals from the rest of the world’s. If you’re not truly happy with your life and find yourself wondering what’s missing, some self-reflection will give you a chance to take a closer look at the choices you are making every day. This way, you can decide whether they are aligned with your definition of success, or somebody else’s.
Here are three ways to define success on your own terms.
Set Your Own Expectations
The amount of external forces at work telling women what’s right for them is mind-boggling. There are your family’s expectations, the media’s, your social circle, and that’s only scratching the surface. My ambitions as a young woman were unusual because there were very few, if any, female entrepreneurs I could have looked up to. I had to come up with my version of success from scratch.
Take some time to decide what is meaningful to you and only you. Not what’s popular, what’s trending, what your friends and family are talking about these days, or what you might have read in a magazine. Think about how you feel when you engage in certain activities over others. Think about the people you admire the most, the people that are living the life that you want to live ‘some day.’
Then, set your expectations and goals to create that type of life. Consider how you would spend your days, what you would be looking forward to and what you would simply say ‘no’ to. This is the first step in setting your own expectations, and doing so will help to define goals that truly mean something to you.
Humans are judgmental by nature, but being the first to judge—yourself and others—is nothing but shortsighted. When you judge you are projecting your own expectations of success onto someone else. If they haven’t met your ideal in some way, you are giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down without a full context. If you don’t want this done to you, examine how your own judgments may be harming others. Then, reel them back.
Women are often judgemental of one another, a fact that isn’t helped by all the competing narratives of what is the right and wrong life course for modern females. Consider that each person is responsible for defining their own path and may be working on how to achieve their goals, in whatever they may be, in their own way. Refrain from judging others and be kinder to yourself, too, instead of criticizing yourself for not meeting a certain standard.
Letting go of this need to judge will not only give you some peace of mind but will also give you some breathing room to accept yourself, and others, for what and who they are. Part of defining your own version of success is letting go of the need to have other people meet them. All women are different, and that’s something to be celebrated. At the end of the day, people who help each other will get a lot further than those who keep each other down.
Decide What You Want, and Don’t Give Up
Success, happiness, and ‘the good life’ are not all out there waiting to be experienced. You can have them all right now when you take the lead on keeping things in your life that help you grow and motivate you, and doing away with things that pull you down and cause stagnancy. But having it all probably doesn’t mean what you think it does: it doesn’t mean perfection, or pleasing everyone.
Decide, right now, what you want in your life right now. A better relationship? Make peace with your significant other and renew your commitment to each other. A better job? Start sending out resumes and mark your calendar for the day you are going to leave, no matter what. Less stress? Reorganize your schedule for the next few days so you can clock in some rest and relaxation.
Taking steps to change something, right here, right now, is one of the easiest ways to put yourself on the path to success on your terms. Don’t let anybody or anything convince you that your choices to change are wrong or inconvenient to them. When you are busy defining success on your terms, you’ll need to accept that there will be many changes ahead. You get to decide what you want in your life and you get to pursue it in your way. Then, you need to work really, really hard to get there, because success won’t be handed to you.
Living a life defined by somebody else’s standard of success can put you on the path to misery, depression, and complete disengagement with life. Be brave enough to define success on your own terms and live a life aligned with that perspective. Whether your goal is financial independence or a nuclear family, taking upward steps, even when it’s hard, will drive your ambition. Even if your exact dream isn’t realized, your life will be enriched by everything you accomplish on the way.