Build a life based on your own definition of success, not everyone else’s definition

Alternate Title: Let’s have a real talk about what’s in YOUR heart

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

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 machine, 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 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 wall paint colour that looks off in the daylight.


Because this notion of success is insatiable and applies an irresponsible pressure to be ‘happy’ with it.

We work hard to ‘get’ success, and then work hard to maintain it and 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.  What a tragedy!!

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 reality 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. 

It makes it very hard to shift our life when we work so hard at maintaining it and the manufacturing the happiness it is supposed to bring us. 


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 for happiness in the wrong places.

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ happiness cure. And it sure won’t be found in looking around at what other people are doing,

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.

Stop chasing what others are saying and finally listen to yourself.

All I ask is that you give these parts of YOU a place to live, in 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.

You don’t have to quit your job or sell all your belongings and travel across the country in a van. Unless that’s what excites you and yours! Then do it!

Just make the first steps and start to listen to yourself, learn about yourself and then hang out with yourself. UNSEEN. No social media. No audiences.

Start doing the things you enjoy. Pick up the camera or dance in your kitchen or learn how to yodel. Learn how you connect with life and enjoy life when you don’t have an audience. Try new things and fail and learn.

Get out of your stale routine and start being curious about life.

Because this is what makes you successful.

Not the daily grind, not a lifestyle you are hustling for, not a fruitless work. Success is not a corporate position. It is not about having ownership of things and status that can all be stripped away.

Success is a quality of living.

And living can only be done well when it is done in the way that fulfills you as an individual.

Success is having ownership of your heart and your soul, which cannot be taken from you.

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

Love Shawna, your nerdy girlfriend who is getting a little ranty about living a passionate life on purpose (because sometimes we just say loudest what we need to hear the most)

Thanks so much for joining in and reading. You might also like the LIFE ON PURPOSE PAGE





5 thoughts on “Build a life based on your own definition of success, not everyone else’s definition”

  1. You KNOW I love this! I think too many of us strive for what everyone else is striving for without really looking at what we want for ourselves or who we want ourselves to be. We worry about being different, about failing, and making mistakes. I’ve been different. I’ve failed. And I’ve made mistakes. I hope to do more of it all; that would make me successful. 🙂

    • I really do think of you often when I think about taking a conventional career and creating a life around things I love instead of things that are predictably safe. Besides, govt jobs can be tremendously dissatisfying because your hands are always tied to really make an impact.

  2. I always write about what my heart needs to hear, and it’s almost always what my friends hearts are reaching for, too! This is exactly where I am at right now. We all need to rethink labels that we put on ourselves and our lives and make sure that we actually support them. My friend said to me the other day- “my mom has always said I was too controlling, and I am controlling, but..” And I said, hold on a minute, you are picking that label up and putting it on yourself a bit fast. Just because your mother thinks you are controlling and has told you this your whole life doesn’t make it true. And we reviewed “the case” for her controlling behavior and all of it was incredibly normal and really just a technique she developed for survival that she has let go of quite a bit in adulthood.

    I love this call to re-examine. Make our own standards! Huzzah.


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