What is success?

What does success mean to you? And are you striving for it in a healthy and sensible way?

Well, that’s a huge question and clearly a very subjective one, but a few people have spoken to me over the last few years who have been frustrated and upset and somewhat ashamed because in their minds, they have not reached where they wanted to be, having set themselves some particularly unattainable goals. 

Success is a purely subjective thing, meaning it means something entirely different to each individual.  Some common ideas of success are financial wellbeing, time with family and friends, being able to live or holiday abroad, buying a huge house, being famous, winning awards, and the list goes on and on and on.

When I started my business nine years ago, my idea of success wasn’t mind-blowing, it was to do something I enjoyed and to earn enough money to keep us financially comfortable.  Not huge aspirations to some, but to me it was everything.  My girls were still young enough to need me, we were struggling financially and I desperately wanted to do something that meant I didn’t dread getting up on a Monday morning.

Within three years I had achieved those goals, but then somewhere along the way I got lost in my own meaning of success. 

Having achieved those goals, I then wanted to go on and create bigger and better ones.  I stumbled across life coaches who encouraged me to set giant goals, one told me to “pin a cheque worth £1 million on my wall in front of me that I could cash in a year”.  I was advised to work my way towards it with positive thinking, getting up early and working until late.  But then when I didn’t achieve it, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was my fault because I didn’t want it badly enough, I must have been dwelling too much on my negative thoughts and I can’t have been working hard enough – and that my friends is known as ‘toxic positivity’ and ‘hustle culture’.

Toxic positivity and hustle culture, what do they mean?

“Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or…  …‘positive vibes,’” explains Dr. Jaime Zuckerman1, a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania who specializes in, among other things, anxiety disorders and self-esteem.

Hustle Culture “also known as burnout culture and grind culture, hustle culture refers to the mentality that one must work all day every day in pursuit of their professional goals.”  Martina Mascali, Monster2

Both are dangerous, they can harm your physical and mental wellbeing and can cause relationship problems anxiety, burnout, and when goals are not realised it can cause despair, shame, blame, and feelings of not being good enough. 

Negative emotions absolutely have a place in life, it is how we as humans process things, and you should never be shamed for feeling them. 

As someone with depression, it took me years to accept that sometimes I’m going to have crappy days, and that’s just how it is – since I have accepted them, I have found it much easier to move on from them.

I also feel that in the past I spent so much time striving for a distant goal in the future that I forgot to enjoy and live for the present and things passed me by that I will never get back.  I should have really been appreciating them for what they were, particularly things that made me happy – the children growing up, time with my husband, discovering new places and working as a VA.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a positive mindset, I think it can get you a long way, but it is not the sole ‘key’ to achieving your goals, neither, may I add, is no sleep – tiredness leads to rash decisions, disorganisation, jumbled thinking, brain fog, lack of focus and ultimately poor health – we are humans we absolutely need our sleep to function – any scientist worth their salt will tell you that! 

The real key to achieving things is more practical, with maybe a dash of positivity thrown in.  So, my idea of success these days is more ‘one step at a time’.  As everyone does, I do still have things I wish to strive for, and I use business strategy, planning, processes and collaboration to achieve them. 

I sleep well and have work hours that work around me.  I set time aside each week to spend on my business and also to spend with my family and friends.  If you want to grow your business, don’t do all the work yourself, outsource it or get employees.  There are ways and means of doing this that don’t involve putting yourself at risk, but it does mean relinquishing control and accepting that others can do things as well as you can.

Examples of successful people who have made it with healthy working practices:

Richard Branson is a prime example, yes, he has worked hard, but he values sleep, family time and has boundaries around working hours.

Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne regularly shares about his darker times and the company now even offers their staff an “unsick day” to look after themselves.

Ask yourself this:

If you were employed, and your boss forced you to work the number of hours you currently do, would you consider taking them to a tribunal?  If the answer to this is yes, then please do not beat yourself up for not working hard enough.  In fact, look at your work practices from a removed perspective.  You need to have a healthier work/life balance and look after your wellbeing, because if you burn yourself out, you won’t be able to do anything!  Stop placing unrealistic expectations on yourself.  We are, after all, only human and as far as I know, none of us are superhuman.

The fact is, you can work towards your aspirations of success, but just make sure they are realistic, celebrate the small wins, and ensure that in striving for them it allows you to be more than just a work horse.  Don’t be ashamed of negative thoughts, they happen, it’s the way a normal brain works.  Get plenty of sleep and strive for happiness.   I would far rather be happy and well, than rich and famous!  And as we know from many, fame and riches do not always bring happiness.

So, what is your idea of success and how are you going to strive for it?

[1] https://www.drjaimezuckerman.com/ 

[2] https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/what-is-hustle-culture

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