How to feel successful
I was reminded of a great lesson this week. One that is perhaps all too easy to forget, and one that perhaps you need reminding of too... My client, let's call her Lucinda, was born partially deaf. She attended lovely schools, but schools that weren't accommodating to her needs. Comments such as "If only she applied herself more", "She could have done better" and, "She's bright, but doesn't try hard enough" were drilled into her on a daily basis. Lucinda learned that no matter how hard she tried, it was never enough. That she could have always done better. This was years ago, she tells me. Memories long forgotten. She was here to build confidence in the workplace. Not rehash a time in her life she couldn't be paid to revisit.
So I asked her, when she ruminated about a mistake she had made at work, or when she received negative feedback, how did it make her feel? She responded with a smile, explaining, "I feel like I'm not doing good enough. Just like I felt at school."
When I asked what 'good enough' meant, she replied:
- smashing my job every single day
- creating great content
- offering creative suggestions
- positive feedback all the time
Now Lucinda is not alone. We all have our own arbitrary definitions of what it means to be enough. Expectations that no one person could fulfil. Maybe it's looking like Blake Lively, or earning a certain amount of money. Perhaps it's being in a relationship, or having 10,000 friends. The chances are, like Lucinda, the criteria for being enough lies outside of you. And the problem with this is that it places you on pretty unsteady ground.
You receive positive praise and you're flying high. Then there's nothing for a few days, and a voice creeps in, "Yup, they don't think you're that great. You're definitely going to get fired..." and your mood plummets. And the cycle repeats. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Totally out of your control.
Now I'm here to say that external validation is a bad thing. I love it. It feels great, boosts motivation and serves a great purpose. But if you only rely upon praise from outside of you, you're going to be in for a rocky ride.
Cultivating internal markers (things within your realm of influence) putsyou in charge of how you feel. Sure, negative feedback may knock your confidence momentarily, but your internal markers – like knowing you tried your best or the level of satisfaction you had in completing the task – mean that there's not such a yo-yo effect.
Now, I started this article by saying that I was reminded of an important lesson this week. And that was to check back in with my personal definition of success. In this noisy world we live in, it's easy to get lost in what society deems successful: a successful job, a big house, a flashy car, and fancy holidays.
And of course, there's nothing wrong if you have any or all of them. But believing that these alone will bring happiness, a feeling of belonging, or a sense of being enough is truly damaging. It's just not how life works. Issues arise when your feeling of success is too heavily focused on these external factors. Establishing your unique and personal definition of success can help you to stay aligned with what really matters to you and not get lost in the chaos of those around you.
As I sit in my garden writing this, looking at my puppy playing (she's three and will forever be a puppy), I realise, that is success. When I make my partner laugh, that is success. Making a positive impact on one person today, that's success. Getting outside on a cold winter's day because I know it's good for me, that's success.
If I were to simply go by the socially accepted definition, then my life perhaps isn't a success. But my life feeds my soul and that feels successful enough to me.
There is no joy or value in living your life based on someone else's definition of success, whether that's from your parents, a teacher, or an influencer. Now is the time to stop living in a way you think you shouldbe, and start basing it upon your values and what's authentic and important to you.
So here we go. Grab yourself a pen and notebook. Find a cosy space where you won't be disturbed and reflect honestly upon the journal prompts below:
- Why is it important to differentiate between internal and external success?
- What are your current personal markers of external success?
- Where do these markers come from, do they align with you and how are they serving you?
- What is the value of having internal success in your life?
- What are the consequences of relying only on external success markers?
- Can you think of any examples in life where this is showing up for you? How does this make you feel?
- What are the specific parameters that you can measure your internal success against? (Think about the key areas of your life: career, relationships, health, mental health, spirituality, personal development etc.)
- Considering all that you have explored so far, what is your personal definition of internal success?
- How can you measure your success?
- What can you do each day to check in and maintain this internal success?
Great job! I always love to hear what comes up for people during a practice like this, so if you feel comfortable doing so, contact me with what internal success means to you!