This Friday, at the tender age of 28 (OK, maybe not so tender anymore), I will be moving into my first one-bedroom apartment. Since I skedaddled off from Hialeah to go to college at 17, I have had probably a half dozen roommates, and lived in efficiencies, pool houses, and most recently a studio. It occurs to me that this might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people who might have had different situations or might even be looking into buying an apartment at the same age, but me? I am beyond excited for my new big-girl home complete with an adult couch, dining table and a porch! I’m also so proud of the progression I’ve seen in my life over the last few years. That is why I want to talk about the importance of celebrating your very own definition of success.
Success should never be defined by a certain salary, where you live, the car you drive, or the clothes you wear. Instead, success should always be measured by whatever that means to you, and in the context of your life and the specific cards you’ve been dealt. It’s so easy to get caught up in what others are doing or where they might be in their life, and what society expects of us at certain ages or stages.
In college, I always felt a little down because I had to live in the less fancy apartments or parts of town. It hurt a little to listen to others talk about expensive vacations and spring breaks I never had the opportunity to take, or the tuition or even fun money checks they’d receive in the mail. I was always on my own. Me, my financial aid checks, and my part-time jobs, and sometimes that felt so unfair. Sometimes it still does. Even between degrees, when I was working full-time in Miami and barely making it with a salary a lot of people my age were doing OK on due to less debt and more help from their parents, I felt a little cheated. Moving to Chicago even seemed like it was so much harder for me with the lack of support. And well, woe was me ya’ll.
But as I’ve progressed through my 20s and entered this whole new stage of maturity, understanding, positivity and love for myself, I’ve learned to look at my disadvantages as advantages, and celebrate my own definition of success. I’ve learned to stop worrying about what others are doing, and think about how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am now. I’ve learned to think about my success in the context of my life and my circumstances, not anyone else’s. And that has made me so much happier and more content with what I have.
Success to me means progress, and I think I do a pretty good job of constantly staying on that path. Moving to Chicago, and leaving my less than desirable situation in Miami was progress. Getting a series of paid internships here while I worked on my MBA was progress. Plowing through tough quantitatively based courses (I always joke that past 2 + 2, I’m not much in the math department), and finishing my MBA with a 3.5 grade point average was progress. Getting myself a 54% raise when I finished my MBA? Man, that was progress! Maintaining an above average credit score despite all of my money noise, that is progress. Going from a roommate to a studio to a one bedroom is progress. Even going from having to do my own nails, to being able to get them done was progress for me, and it still feels so, so good. What can I say? This girl likes to feel pretty.
Losing 50 pounds last year even though that makes me by no means thin, that was progress. Sure, I’ve gained a few back (very few, don’t get crazy), but I’m still thinner than I’ve been in years, and although I still struggle with weight, I’ve seen a huge change in myself. I worry about exercise and try to get to it at least a few times a week. I pay more attention to what I eat, and I make more of an effort to maintain. I feel stronger, I like how I look in my clothes, and I no longer feel like an obese person. I just feel like a normal person. That is not perfection, but it is major progress.
Success, to me, also means constantly moving forward in small ways. Finally working on my book and starting this blog, and getting serious about my author dreams now that I’m finally done with school, and I’m in a good place – that is moving forward. This relatively new sense of self-love, appreciation and understanding, and always working to come from a positive place is moving forward. Watching myself become increasingly better able to handle negativity from others without crumbling – that is a major step forward too.
For me, success is really a combination of being proud of who I am and how I treat others. It means working hard, and constantly getting a little better at life, my job, relationships, etc. It means constantly working on my craft. It means being liked and respected by others, and seeing that people know my word is worth something. It means sticking to my dreams and aspirations no matter how hard it gets. It means standing up for who I am, and not letting others make me into their own vision of me. It means being a little different and quirky. It means having great friends, and making the time to laugh, sing and dance regardless of how busy life gets, but also knowing how to have fun with just me. It means living and saying my truth, even when people lash out at me for it.
To me, success means being a person my little 11 year old sister can look up to and respect, and maybe want to be just a little bit like when she gets older. 🙂 It means never treating someone in a manner I wouldn’t want to be treated. And finally, it means putting myself in an increasingly better financial situation little by little, and breaking the chain of my past. I have no dreams of being a millionaire. I just want to be in a place where I can pay down my school debt, pay all my bills with ease, and have enough for the occasional luxury or trip (I’m obsessed with the thought of visiting Africa someday). It means one day being able to provide a much different, but still very much grounded, life for my sister as she gets older, and for my children (now there’s just the pesky detail of a husband!).
It’s really all about that fight for authenticity. That battle we all face to be who you are and live the life you want, to be successful in the way that makes you happy. So please, I urge you. Do yourself a favor, and start celebrating your own definition of success. It’s just another effective path to HAPPY.
And, while we’re on the topic of success, if you need a little help in the area, here’s one of my favorite articles on things successful people do differently. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and you can read it here. Now I’ve told you what success means to me. What does it mean to you?
Sonia, Word Share Junkie