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Defining Success - Personal Reflections

Monday, April 01, 2013

What defines your success? How do you find happiness and purpose, and feel like you’ve truly accomplished something of value?

I’m learning a challenging lesson about this in my own life lately.

I have written about my struggles with perfectionism in the past – the ever consuming “all or nothing” mentality that I coach so many of my clients through, assuring them that perfect isn’t possible, and that is okay. Slip-ups happen. That is okay. Mistakes and failures push us toward our great potential.

I say this stuff… and I know this stuff… but I honest to God have a very hard time putting into practice in my own mentality sometimes. Especially when I feel like I’m continually slipping, tripping, and falling flat on my face. Like now.

When I was a student, I got straight A’s. Surprising? Probably not. Unique? Nope. I was your typical oldest child, over-achiever and goodie-two-shoes. I learned that when I worked hard at something and gave it my all, I was rewarded. Rewarded with a good grade. A scholarship. A solo in choir. My art featured in a show. A leadership position. Student of the month. A good tip from a satisfied customer. Positive accolades and praise from my professors and teachers.

I am beginning to see now in these clunky adult years of growth [aka – my 20’s] that I must have really attached my own success and worth to all these outside credits. I have always believed I was only as good as the report card or another person told me I was. This realization is slamming me in the soul lately, as I grapple with my perceptions of failure (be they accurate or not) in my life and attempted ventures.

As an adult, I don’t get graded quarterly. I don’t have superiors praising me, or opportunities to showcase my talents or passions for all to acknowledge and celebrate like I used to. I have had a diverse past few years of work-experience, with some not so great bosses and unhealthy work environments that left me feeling broken and worthless. I am paying off my student loan debt, I pay my taxes, I’m an honest person, and I’m working hard at pursuing a life of passion where I inspire and help other people and live according to my beliefs and virtues… I feel like I’ve done everything right… but yet…

… I struggle over and over with feelings of failure.

Have you read the book The Five Love Languages? It’s a book that I often discuss with my clients when we talk about relationships and easing communications with others. The five “love languages” proposed are: Time, Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Gifts. When my husband and I read the book several years ago, I discovered (not to my surprise) that I am overwhelmingly concerned with Words of Affirmation. It is how I feel loved and valued more than anything else!

Recognizing this as a primary need of mine, I can see how I’ve always tied my self-love to the affirmation of others in my life. Whether it be in school or in the work place, I’ve always sought approval that I’m enough. That I’m good. Worthy.


It’s no wonder I’ve been battling feelings of failure and disappointment recently. I’m all too dependent on the approval and recognition by others to validate that I can do this and I am talented and capable and valued. And I haven’t been receiving it. Like, at all. [In fact, I’ve been receiving the opposite of it… criticisms and dismissals.]

I am definitely being tested. My faith is being challenged, and God keeps trying to teach me patience and help me to see that my worth is not in the words of others or the dollars on my paycheck. My worth is in the light of God within me, the love of Christ that gives me hope and strength to carry on.

All these feelings of self-doubt and old mental abuse have been screaming at me these past four days. As you may know, back in the fall I took a part-time job working at a chiropractic office to help supplement my income as I continue to work on building my health coaching practice. (I am a part-time gal, piecing together a collection of jobs to make up a somewhat pitiful and undependable income, while keeping me running all over each day.) I was hired as a Chiropractic Assistant, under the impression I would be primarily working in-office with patients, doing rehabilitation exercises and therapies, and assisting at the front-desk. The job turned into a two-part position – where the majority of my responsibilities were as a Practice Representative, and I was to do networking and sales for the business through lining up speaking engagements at local businesses. While I’m comfortable talking to new people and public speaking, the sales pressure was too much for me, and had me very stressed. I expressed this concern to my superior, and came down with an awful cold. Last week, I departed the office and the job.

This most recent “failure” feels like a validation of my own deep seeded fears of inadequacy: that no matter what I attempt, I seem to fail. I know this fear is illogical, but unfortunately emotions are not dictated by logic. The emotion is real, and the self-doubt has been consuming me.

I don’t really have any sage conclusions about all these feelings and musings, other than I know I’m growing, and growth is sometimes quite uncomfortable. (I have the stretch marks from my youth spurt to prove it.) I have a lot to work on, and many realizations about myself and how I define my worth to keep me turning inward and upward – putting my faith in the journey and my God.

Somehow, I have to believe that even if I can’t see it and no one is telling me outright, I must be doing the homework necessary to earn my “A” in this career venture soon. I am filled with such passion and desire for goodness and revolution – I want so badly to be a beacon of light and change for others, to radiate truth and compassion and health. Even though my entrepreneurial efforts are taking more time than I had hoped, I have faith that all will be well. Bumps in the road help shape the journey, and help me to redefine what success really comes down to in my life. Because it can’t be about dollar signs – or about report cards or accolades.

It has to be about the peace I feel with my place here in this world, and the joy in living, speaking, and acting upon my truth. Blessed be this beautiful life.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I understand the need for words of affirmation, I am the same love language! Our pastor has preached many messages using the Five Love Languages book, I love it!
    2204 days ago
    The joy of the Lord is our strength...please Him and strength will follow and bring happiness along with it. Thanks for sharing.
    2371 days ago
    I think you should be in next Bobbi Brown's Pretty Powerful series :D
    2427 days ago
    Internal affirmations of self-worth is the most important step in learning to truly love the person you sre, not the person you hope to become. You are well on your way on that journey.
    2429 days ago
  • KLONG8
    I had a feeling I should check in with you and here you are, really writing about something so very important. I believe you are uncovering important things about yourself...and things that so many people feel. I think that in your 20's you are particularly vulnerable to needing the approval of others to feel you are successful, worthy. I can only tell you that with age that settles down a little and you learn (through all your life lessons) that you are the one grading yourself. The cool thing about you, Whitney, is that you set great goals and then you know when you go after them you'll attain them. That's POWER, that's PERSEVERANCE! You'll be successful. A job that isn't a good fit? That's part of life and you learn from each experience. You're a total winner. Best to you on your journey!
    2430 days ago
    You a a strong women Whitney. You have accomplished so much at your young age. Give yourself a pat on the back. The road ahead is not always easy or fun but you are not given up and sitting it out like many your age. Give your self some credit. Your on the right path. I'm proud of you!
    2430 days ago
  • GINA180847
    Dear Whitney, I hear you on all those points. Face it, it is nice to get recogniton for work well done. But internally we need to be the first and most honest to do the recognizing. There is nothing I hate more than compliments for nothing, just empty crap. So it amounts to being very careful to be kind , honest and doing the best we can. Some jobs are not healthy for us. One job I had when I most desperately needed the money found me eating insanely and I knew after very careful evaluation that I had to face unemployment or go nuts. Life is what it is, not as it should be. I was often reminded that no one promised me a rose garden (no kidding!).
    2434 days ago
    I've been "following" you for several years, and this is my take on you, Whit:

    You are the change you want to see in the world.

    That, my dear, is a fabulous thing. I would call that being successful!
    2439 days ago
    2442 days ago
    Perhaps needing outside approval isn't a bad thing...

    I work on commission and my income depends on my relative success. Since I like to succeed (and make money) I work hard and am rewarded with praise from above.

    I think some people are internally motivated and some people need to hear it from ranother source. Maybe you could set up some kind of reward system in your own business so that you can praise yourself for reaching your goals?
    2443 days ago
    I hear ya on all of the above, I was the same in school & younger years. Now it's like - I make one mistake and I'm fighting to keep myself from letting the walls crash down on me.

    I also noted something you mentioned here that busts my bubble - student loans. You are smart, you rocked college, you have big dreams that would be totally achievable - if you didn't have student loans to pay back. I struggle alot with my "dream career" and the steps it takes to get there and the fact that I owe $300 a month to basically a vicious beast that will come after me if I don't, and I can't afford to NOT have a more stable, undesirable job or I can't pay those bills. It's a rock and a hard place.

    I quit my first job out of college. I graduated with a 4.0, honors, and I felt like I failed. But the truth is that you have to learn the hard way sometimes what is HEALTHY & GOOD for YOU. Those soul crushing jobs are learning experiences, but you have to move on at the same time. Don't feel bad for protecting your heart and soul by moving on. Life is too short! Channel that energy into positive development for the future instead of agonizing over the past, except to reflect on what you gained from the experience (even if it is just "I will not work for a psycho ever again")

    Easier said than done, I know, but good luck!
    2443 days ago
    I read this and all i kept thinking was "yes---this is me too". I'm with you honey and will be praying for you. lets hope all this self-doubt and "failure complex" ends before our 30s!
    2443 days ago
    When we rely on the approval of others we will ALWAYS be dissapointed. It can never be enough or the way we want it.
    The phrase "happiness comes from within" can really get some people boiling. Ultimately, it proves out over the course of time.
    If you look at many of the religions around the world they point to the pathway to peace as a constant struggle to get closer to a higher power. A dedication of every action, not for personal glory, but for a greater good.
    There are two words to meditate on: gratitude and acceptance.
    When you are ready the answers will come.
    2443 days ago
    I am very much like this myself. When you are used to outside validation and it stops, you think something is wrong. You have to look within yourself for that validation. Look at how successful you have been at your weight loss. Take that and know you can do it. If you can do this, you can do anything. A few things that have helped me are this website.....
    ( not sure it this is right, you can google it) and I am currently reading Uncertainty, turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance by Jonathan Fields.
    You will find your path if you are open to it. You just have to read the signs God puts in your path correctly. I am living my life with more intention right now and saying yes to things I would typically shy away from. My life is so much more fulfilling. I wish you the best in what you seek.
    2443 days ago
    Wow, this is powerful and insightful. You have not only clarified some things for yourself, you have also put your finger on some issues that I share that I have neve been able to understand.
    2443 days ago
    "The 20s are years of growth and discovery...but the 30s are when life really begins."

    That is my own quote...and I am 40 now, and it still holds up. I couldn't wait to get to my 30s because that is when I truly felt life began...with career, with family, with me finding "me". They say the 40s are even better...we shall see! lol

    Things are always going to be constantly changing - your body, your life your business...the key to it is to be HAPPY in your heart (which you weren't at that job btw, so kudos for leaving it...that takes guts!) and as time goes on, the coping mechanisms to adapt to those changes are what separate the strong from the weak. Blogging it out is therapeautic - as is getting support from your community - again, good job for using those tools!

    Learning the phases of life is part of the game... you are in one such phase. Stay true to your dream. That is what someone told me recently on here (because god knows, life will throw you a loop at 40 too!) and it helped to read those words!

    Keep up the faith! and keep that chin up!! Go and do some sales work for yourself instead of someone else! Why not?!?! It wouldn't hurt and maybe some of the people you met might just be interested in YOUR stuff instead of the other stuff you were selling emoticon
    2443 days ago
    I believe that seeking approval and affirmation is part of human nature. I can't think of someone I know who wouldn't feel valued and important when met with other people's recognition. And I think we can easily become addicted to this and count on it in order to measure our success. But the truth is that our personal success is defined by our dreams and desires. Are we living the life that we would like to lead? Have we become the persons that we'd like to be with a character that we really admire? Try to forget about your recent "failure" and focus on the things that you would like and the things that you have achieved. Count your blessings and enjoy the things that really matter in your life. Success comes disguised sometimes.
    Good luck!
    2443 days ago
    You're on a journey that sounds like very important self-discovery! I am impressed with your venture into the health coaching field and have found myself with a very strong desire to help others, whether as a health-coach of some kind, a mentor, a counselor...I am exploring. Your earnest desire to follow God and your strong passion for this field are evident. It may be challenging and a struggle but that is part of the journey. And everything you are learning along the way is important. Keep pursuing your passion and continuing to seek God's direction as you move forward. This is a very important part of the process. I am at the beginning of the changes I want to make (haven't yet made that leap) and am just beginning to take steps. I very much admire where you are. Keep up the great work!
    2443 days ago
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    2443 days ago
    In the past when I have reached maintenance I have found this to be a true issue. No one notices that you're staying the same healthy self, the praise ends and it can be tough to find another motivator.

    I truly believe that you will find your success, you are a very inspirational, well spoken individual with so much to give to your clients. Keep your head up!
    2443 days ago
    Your blog made me realize that subconsciously I also seek approval from others... and that isn't always healthy! I am a high achiever and it is hard for me when things don't just fall into place all neat and tidy...so many things in life are outside of our control. But you can control how you react to situations and look for the positive aspects and you are doing that beautifully.

    2443 days ago
    You are the only judge of your success.
    2443 days ago
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