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Redefining Success for Yourself

08/13/2015 12:15 EDT | Updated 08/13/2016 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock / Subbotina Anna

We all want it, but we rarely put any personal definition behind what it ought to mean.

We want success, because success means we did things "right," success implies that we are in a great state of life. Therefore, we "ought" to be happy and well-off.

But we've spent our whole lives sharing one common (Western) definition of a "successful" person.....

We were conditioned to think it means getting good grades, graduating from a good school, always making safe decisions, maintaining a stable job, owning a nice new(ish) house, happily raising happy kids, having an effortless marriage to a passionate caring spouse. Oh and maybe toss in some vacations, an elliptical, cute shoes, local artisan cheeses and, duh, the self-cleaning espresso machine. Hashtag blessed -- don't even get me started.

I'm not saying these things are bad. I love my brie, my over-priced conditioner and my Apple TV. I'm saying these aren't what make me successful or determine my happiness. I'm saying I need to always stop and ask if I'm chasing them for me, or for the version of me I think I 'ought' to be.

We are raised to think this success is a ONE certain path.

I was. My parents promoted safe and stable because who wouldn't want that for their kid? I watched my friends and mentors seek it, so I went after it. I had it. You'd probably look at me and say I do have it! But now I'm trying to peel it off in chips, like a paint colour that looks off in the daylight.

Because this notion of success is insatiable and puts an irresponsible weight on the pressure to be "happy" with it.

We work hard to "get" success. Then work hard to maintain it. Then get sick of working hard to live a life that we aren't all that passionate about after all and really, have no time to actually LIVE because we are busy maintaining.

Then we learn this type of success does not default to happiness. So now we've failed at being happy and need to hide it. So we try to put on a gloss of "perfect." We are all doing each other an injustice of upholding this as the mold because we don't want our flaws to be seen, or our hands to get dirty, our shoes to get scuffed and our eyes to get wet. So cue the 21-day fixes, buying all the organic white truffle kale and eye creams made from dolphin tears -- because if we can be more successful we can be happier.

What if we gave ourselves permission to ignore the status quo acceptance of "success"? After all, status quo is average and nobody ever mined a pile of life-happiness from "normal."

Because we all know there is more to life. We know there is more passion and more grit. We yearn for it, we seek it, we tweet at it hoping it will retweet us. We are side-eyeing around at others to get ideas on how to be just above that average line. Maybe because we know we have more in us, or maybe because we are seeking the unquenchable upgrade to the current 'success' state we're in.

We are looking the wrong places.

There is no "one-size fits all" happiness cure or milestones of success.

It's time to look down deep into those parts of your heart's desires and gifts that you filed under "you could never" and "that's just weird" and "people just don't do that." Pull out those pieces, those raw and unique God-given pieces. Those jagged edges that need polishing. Those strengths you have that you tie up and control so you aren't "too much." Those visions and dreams you tuck under "juvenile" and "fruitless" because you deeply fear the shame that accompanies potential failure.

All I ask is that you give these parts of you words and sentences. Write them down. See what your heart looks like scrawled onto a notebook at your kitchen table. I want us to ignore the status quo for a little bit because status quo is average and we ALL are more than average.

Then come back and tell me all about it.

I would love to know if you could redefine what successful looks like in your life, how would you define it?

Shawna writes at Simple on Purpose about the ups and downs of a family of five seeking simpler living. Lots of real talk, mom humour and general nerdiness. Like Simple on Purpose on Facebook.

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