What if we decided to turn the traditional definition of success on its head?

Yesterday, I had a very interesting conversation about the traditional definition of success. The person I was talking to very cleverly referenced the Harry Potter houses to illustrate the different definitions of success they see in the world today. Kudos to them for grabbing my attention using a HP reference!

  • Ravenclaw: Knowledge & Intellect
  • Slytherin: Power & Wealth
  • Gryffindor: Bravery & Recognition
  • Hufflepuff: Kindness & Modesty

Seems about right. But let’s back up just a little bit first.

What got me thinking about my definition of success in the first place, was a comment from my therapist: “when you achieve what your definition of success is again…” (I heard the undertone there, my definition of success, which clearly is a skewed one). She’s known me 10 years, so she must have a good idea about how hard I can be on myself. I have to take her comments on the chin, because I not only respect her opinion greatly, but, even when I disagree, she’s usually right.

Traditionally, a lot of us have been raised to believe that success is based on the Slytherin and Gryffindor mentalities. How much power and influence do you have? How wealthy are you? What is your job title? How famous are you? How many followers do you have? These are all outward indicators where your success is dependent on external factors. An ego driven mentality, in fact.

I’m not here to bullshit you and claim that these have never influenced my decisions: career or otherwise. These are all things that have been important to me in the past. It’s inherent really, when you’re raised in a household of high achievers and you also like to set very unrealistic goals and expectations of yourself. But what if I made an active decision to change my definition of success? What if we decided that we wanted to turn the traditional definition of success on its head?

I’ve always thought of success as something static or ‘black and white’: you either have it, or you don’t, there’s no in-between. I’ve had a very interesting career so far, with high profile jobs, big projects and earning many awards along the way. But have I ever felt successful? No.

I’ve never felt like I was earning enough, or being recognized enough, even when accepting awards for my work. Ridiculous yes, but even recently when I finished a short story for a competition, it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to then turn my focus to the next competition. I didn’t enjoy the moment, enjoy the success of completing something. I was on autopilot, because it “isn’t about getting it done, it’s about getting recognized for it”. What a load a BS!

As you can probably tell, this topic is something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about in recent weeks, and it’s something that I’m trying to address so I can approach life with a different view of what success means to me, especially as I get more settled into my thirties. I began by asking myself what I would do if I had one week to live. Literally, if I found out I would be dead next week this time, how would I spend my week? The answer gave me a sense of what is important to me, and what I would want to do to be considered a worthwhile contributor to society and the world as a whole. While I may delve into those specifics at a later date, I wanted to share what I have subsequently set out as new areas of “success” for myself. Perhaps this encourages you to do the same, and take on the same challenge of defining what success is to you at this stage.

At 31, success to me is:

  • Expanding my general knowledge.
  • Contributing to the success of others. Being a part of the journey of others (in a non-public facing way). I’ve always drawn a lot of strength from this.
  • Learning more about human psychology. I did a semester of psychology after university and I’d like to explore further studies in this field in future.
  • Safety in my relationships: friendships, family and in my heart partnership. Consistency too.
  • Focus. One of the hardest things for a self employed person to do!
  • Travelling to learn and gain perspective, not for recreational purposes.
  • Practicing my writing, specifically prose. Learning more about how to improve my writing. Writing to contribute, not simply for money or recognition. Putting other creative projects on hold to grow in this area.
  • The amount of time in my day that I’m free to do what I want with my time. This includes committing to the entrepreneurial and writer’s journey, regardless of external recognition or opportunities that may come from it. This one is very important. Essentially, I feel successful if I can choose what I do with my 24 hours. That doesn’t mean I get to be a lazy sack of potatoes on a beach all day. It means having the freedom to decide what I do with my time, which 99% of the population does not have the luxury of doing.

Looking at these, I now have a clearer set of parameters and goals to work towards for a renewed interpretation of success, rather than continuing to focus on the traditional view (and making myself unnecessarily unhappy). Frankly, looking at this means that I’m pretty damn successful already! Let’s call a spade a spade. I am doing these things to the best of my ability, so I should pat myself on the back for that.

Perhaps, the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff approaches are not as lame as they’ve been made out to be by others (well, myself included). I’m thankful for a bit of clarity around the matter. I’m sure my definition of success will keep changing as my goals adapt and adjust; this is something that many people I have spoken to over the years have echoed and I believe it to be true. Let’s see how this goes for a little while, and try not to get too far ahead of ourselves (and the rest of our day today).

– Conrad was here.

How my mental health journey became a process of personal reinvention.

You are pursuing your passion. Remember this on the good and the bad days. Life is a journey. You are but a sea fish, swept along the current, sucked in and spat out in continual motion. Everything as and when it should be. Adjust and recover accordingly. You are not in control. Love yourself. Go kindly & gently.*

It’s been 200 days since I started my self care and mental health journey, and if you’ve been following my story on the blog, you’ll know just what a journey it’s been. I have thoroughly enjoyed documenting what can only be referred to as a tricky period in my life, but am also so thankful that we’re at this point, where, with sufficient reflection, I’ve realised that the breakdown happened for one very distinct reason: as part of me starting a process of personal reinvention.

A reinvention can be classified as the process where something is changed so much, it appears to be entirely new, and this is exactly how I’m feeling after six months of depression recovery. Over the festive season, I took stock of all the decisions I made in the last twelve months in fact, and realised that each one of them has led me to this very moment, where I now have the ability to revisit and change my approach, to change how I respond to untoward situations, to break the emotional shackles that have held me back for so many years, and to, frankly put, come of age as an adult. It all started when I realised how easily I “sulk” when things don’t go my way. I’m at a point where I get ashamed when my natural reaction is to sulk, which means that things are moving in the right direction.

So what does a reinvention include, according to me? I’ve reflected extensively on this, taking into account how my life has changed since I started prioritising my mental health. Here is what I’d like to focus on moving forward:

  • Moving from sporadic (inconsistent) learning to active reading and doing my best to learn something from everyone I meet.
  • Approaching my life in a more mindful way, escaping the clutches of robotic and systemic thinking in how I make decisions. This includes a 15 minute silent meditation each morning, which I am enjoying so much.
  • Getting out of the “bubble” of my local community, and expanding my network to meet more people from all walks of life and different places around the world. This has been made possible by a few interesting platforms that landed “on my desk” in the last month or so, and I’ve noticed just how much I still have to learn about other societies and cultures.
  • Being intrinsically motivated (doing personally fulfilling work) in my career, rather than being financially motivated. I’ll be sure to share a separate post on this too, as there is a lot to talk about here, but basically, I want to spend my time working on projects that are worthwhile for me. Changes are coming.
  • Accepting a modest and unstable life as a creative, rather than searching for something lucrative and “stable” (if you can even consider any kind of existence stable).
  • Living a more nomadic lifestyle, rather than being office/computer bound. This includes the ability to work from anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to a full-time position. This also includes more trips in nature and connecting with the earth, exploring its secrets and finding the best possible learning path for myself.
  • Pursuing a more authentic look: I’m growing a beard, letting my body hair grow, and would like to explore clothing that is more me: my friends have commented that I have quite a preppy aesthetic, which I’ve discovered is something that isn’t truly who I am, but rather a bi-product of the community I grew up in.
  • Classifying myself as a dreamer, rather than a careerist. This includes no longer grounding my self esteem in terms of my work, but rather in terms of my creative vision and dreams. This ties in with my impeding career change, which I’ll discuss further in another post.
  • Continuing to say no when my self care is compromised. This is a boundary I will be practicing to uphold, well, come hell or high water, this year. It has been interesting to see how my peers have reacted to me not giving the automatic yes to everything I get asked to do or go to.
  • Living day-to-day, rather than month-to-month or with extensive plans that try to control where things are going. All we have is today, all we have is this very moment.
  • Moving away from the dreams my parents had for me (in terms of family, my career, housing, marriage etc.), to my own goals, which are mainly creatively grounded and set up in a way to connect on a 1:1 basis with as many different people as possible. I don’t mean to disrespect their vision, but it was never mine to begin with, and I’d like to find my own passions independently of what anyone in my inner circle may have to say about it.
  • Diverting from this notion that we’re meant to be chasing happiness as the end goal: this year, I’m chasing a multitude of emotional experiences, and making peace with the bad along with the good. Some days you’ll have anxiety and exhaustion with a great sense of joy from the smallest of moments. It’s simply the flow of life. I’d like to make peach with that.
  • Finding solace in my introversion, and accepting that I’m just not somebody that enjoys playing the part of “extrovert” in a social setting. Let’s have a quiet cup of tea and connect 1:1 – then you truly understand who I am.
  • Living modestly and as a minimalist, rather than pursuing excess, whether that be in materialistic purchases, where I live, what I drive, or something as simple as how much I’m eating on a bad day. Everything is to be taken as a practice in moderation. Everything to be taken as an opportunity to remain realistic about what is happening out there in the real world and to adapt accordingly.

I’d like to end off this post with three additional ideas that I’m exploring as part of the reinvention process, which I thought deserved a little bit more emphasis and discussion. They are as follows:

1. Changing my definition of success.

In my twenties, I used to measure success by traditional financial standards, comparing myself to my peers, school friends as well as placing a lot of emphasis on my job title, salary, or the company I work for. Moving into 2019, and as part of my reinvention process, I’ve decided that for me, success will rather be measured in terms of how well I’m developing my competencies this year.

Before my 30th birthday, I used to focus all my efforts to correcting my “flaws” and giving so much energy towards the things I considered to be ‘wrong’ with me. You can imagine what that did to my self esteem. That has changed massively since I started my self care journey. Now, my primary focus is on pursuing the things that I already consider myself to be competent in. My writing ability, for example, is a wonderful gift that I’d like to practice and refine as it is something that gives me great joy. Since the start of my holiday, I’ve been writing about two hours a day, something that is showing no signs of slowing down, so we’re making decent progress so far. Watch this space!

2. Being more flexible with my decisions.

I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol between 17 June and the end of December last year, all as part of giving the anti-depressants the best possible chance go “do their thing”, but over the festive season I realised that I would not be able to go into 2019 with such a rigid mindset about well, anything. The alcohol example is the most practical one I can share, to emphasise how I’d like to be a bit more gentle with myself going as part of the reinvention. Nothing in life is sustainable as simply “this” or “that”, it requires flexibility and I realised I needed to let up on my rigidity to practice being kinder to myself.

I ended up having a glass of wine while on holiday. It was in a controlled environment, I managed my mental health very carefully (those who have followed the blog will know that I usually dipped emotionally two days after drinking) and quite frankly, it didn’t add or take away much, so I consider it to have been a good decision. Drinking a bottle of wine because I feel anxious? Not a vibe or an option as part of my self care journey. Having a glass of champagne with friends when I find out they’re having a baby? Yes. Having a glass of red wine on a date where I’m connecting with someone? Absolutely. It’s also alright for me to enjoy myself, I don’t have to earn the right to do so.

3. Freeing myself from emotional shackles holding me back.

There are three key emotional shackles that have held me back for a very long time, that I wanted to share here very quickly:

  1. Anxious attachment: Do yourself a favour, and research the four different psychological attachment styles. I’ve discovered that I attach anxiously in all relationships in my life, even in my work. While not easily possible to change to a secure attachment style, it is possible to change how you respond in situations when you feel your anxious attachment coming on. As they say in Eat. Pray. Love: “Think of me, send me love, and drop it”. It has been very helpful to get me to detach across a wide spectrum of dynamics in my life and I’ll be sure to write more about this soon.
  2. The rescuer mentality: I’ve always been known as a good problem solver, and I can easily talk anyone off’ an emotional ledge, thanks to my ability to really listen when someone is sharing with me. Sometimes, especially in my past, this has become something I sought out to distract myself, i.e. trying to find someone to “rescue”. My therapist made a great point on this last year. “If you try to rescue someone, you are highlighting to others that they haven’t yet been saved, and that they’re not strong enough to save themselves”. This was a powerful momentum shifting statement. While it’s gotten a lot better, and I’ve detached successfully from this kind of behaviour with my inner circle, I am mindful that it is something that can still be a problem for me moving forward.
  3. The need for external validation. We all want to feel seen or heard. Sometimes I want this a little too much, and, as with many of us it trickles into the image I project on social media. I’m breaking free from this shackle in 2019, focusing on tackling my self esteem issues via therapy and coaching, and best yet, in my writing. I am whole, for I am both the good and the bad. Brene Brown comes to mind here, who in her most recent book said “you don’t need to prove that you deserve a seat at the table”. Just sit and enjoy yourself.

Moving forward, the blog will be positioned as an avenue for me to discuss this reinvention process. Thank you so much to everyone who has been following my journey so far. I’d love for you to continue with me as we enter into a new phase.

– Conrad was here.

*My first journal entry for 2019, in a diary I was given by my friend Jana.