Allowing your idea of success to change (as you do)

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This post is part of The Declaration of You’s BlogLovin’ Tour, which I’m thrilled to participate in alongside over 200 other creative bloggers. This week’s theme is “Success.”

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When I was eighteen, I visited New York City for the first time. (Technically it was the second time, but the first time I was three and literally all I remember from that visit is staring at an array of pastel-colored plush kittens in a little shop that also sold candy and newspapers, and crying because I couldn’t decide which color of kitten I wanted. Ultimately I chose yellow).

My best friend had an audition for music school there, and my father and I journeyed to NYC from our home in the Chicago suburbs to hang out with her during her audition process, and SEE THE BIG CITY.

Although I lived in the Chicago area, my life was suburban. Only very rarely at this point had I ventured into the actual city of Chicago, to see a Cubs game or go to a museum. But New York! As a diehard fan of Woody Allen movies, New York City was a place I was, surely, born to experience.

I loved it. I saw “Cats” and “A Chorus Line” on Broadway (yes, this was a long, long time ago), and hung out at coffeehouses and saw iconic landmarks I’d only seen in movies. I even had a celebrity sighting – film critic Gene Siskel (ironically, a Chicagoan and to me right up there with Bruce Springsteen in terms of awesomeness) walked right in front of our hotel.

That was it, I decided then and there – I was destined to live in New York City! There, I would experience success. There, I would experience BRILLIANCE!

My friend got accepted into music school in NYC, and although I was starting college as a theater major at Indiana University in the fall, I was now convinced New York was the place for me to be. Over the next several years, I visited my friend in New York from time to time and we kept scheming on the phone about how, after college, I’d join her there.

Except that didn’t happen. Every time I went to New York, I had tons of fun and I loved being with my friend and pretending I was in “Manhattan” or “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

But I never truly considered living in New York City. I never seemed to take any concrete steps to get myself there.

The reality, at this point, was that I had set up a life for myself in Chicago. And I liked it. A lot. But, Chicago was no New York, my brain nagged, and some part of me believed that I was “playing small” and somehow not living the life I was meant to live by remaining in Chicago.

At twenty-six, I visited my friend in New York for what turned out to be the last time. And, for the first time, I didn’t like it. It felt overwhelming, loud, and expensive. I listened to my friend complain about her exorbitant rent fee and endured shoulder-to-shoulder subway rides I’d once found exhilarating.

On a cab ride, I rolled down the window and peered out and the city rose up around me, beautiful and decadent and amazing. And I still loved New York. I just didn’t want to live there. After eight years of believing I wanted to live in New York, I had to tell myself the truth — I was perfectly happy where I already was.

We do this to ourselves – we fixate on an idea of what it means to be successful, to “live in the big city,” to have the stellar career (whatever it may be) that has us leaping into the stratosphere.

And this is good – it’s part of discovering ourselves. It’s part of listening to our longings and yearnings and understanding what they mean.

But sometimes our longings and yearnings point us toward something not so we can do it or possess it, but so we can own the qualities it represents to us in order to be who we are.

Our definitions of success are usually strongly merged with our perceptions of ourselves. This is why when we talk about success, we’re often really talking about identity, about what we know about who we are.

So at age eighteen, my definition of success was something like “being a sought-after actress who lives in New York City.”

Twenty-plus years down the road, my version of success is radically different — today, it’s “knowing and understanding myself better and better, and helping others do the same.” (Read more about defining your version of success, here.)

When it comes down to it, for me, success is a feeling within me that reinforces to me who I truly am.

Something about New York City – its aliveness, its diversity, its bigness, its vibrance – felt like what I wanted. And I thought I needed to live there to have it.

But as I began to recognize that that same aliveness, diversity, bigness and vibrance that I associated with NYC was actually within me already – as I started to own those aspects of myself – I no longer needed to be in New York to feel that way.

As a coach, so often I see clients cling to a dream, to a version of success, that they have started to outgrow, or that they’ve always been sure they need in order to be happy. But they’ve never really asked themselves if this is actually true.

How do you find out if you really want that thing?

By asking yourself how you think you would feel if you had it.

It’s the feeling of having that thing that you want, not necessarily the thing itself. (Get really specific here about what feelings you think having that thing would bring you.)

Once you’re in touch with the feeling you want – once you realize you can generate that feeling inside yourself without any particular circumstances attached to it – ask yourself if you still truly want that thing, if that “thing” is still a valuable part of your path. The answer may be “yes.” And if so, go for it!

But you may find out it’s like me and New York City: it may be something you thought you needed when you didn’t know yourself as well as you do today — when you simply weren’t owning the brilliance that, today, you know you possess. Whether you live in New York City or Timbuktu.

What about you? Are there any old definitions of success you’re ready to let go of? Does your current definition of success support who you are today? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

(Below, living vicariously through Woody: I still love New York.)

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The Declaration of You, published by North Light Craft Books and available now, gives readers all the permission they’ve craved to step passionately into their lives, discover how they and their gifts are unique and uncover what they are meant to do.  This post is part of The Declaration of You’s BlogLovin’ Tour. Learn more – and join us! – by clicking here.

Image is “Rainbow Over Manhattan” © Andrew Kazmierski | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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