The beginning of the year brings plenty of articles on success — attaining it and sustaining it. Depending on your personality, this onslaught of encouragement can bring enthusiasm or despair. There tends to be one dominant version of success in our society, and it’s the shiny, “get to the top with all the trappings” version, which can make some of us feel bad or as if we’re not doing enough.
Many women, myself included, are self-critical. We expect a lot from ourselves. We go over and above the requirements on every project. Women’s leadership coach Kathy Caprino says many of her clients are “perfectionistic over-functioners,” doing “more than is necessary and more than is healthy” in their work and home lives.
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Those of us who have branched out on our own may wilt when we think a particular entrepreneurial project isn’t working. We berate ourselves for not achieving success fast enough and wonder if we should give up.
“Realize that everything we create of meaning and value requires work,” says Caprino. “It doesn’t fall in your lap.” Even if you think you know someone for whom success has happened “overnight,” in all likelihood it hasn’t.
Another way to think about success, according to mindful leadership coach Emily Bennington, is to re-frame it altogether. After years of trying the corporate ladder approach — basing her success on her title, goals met and how she compared to her colleagues — she burned out. Bennington decided that to be happier at work she had to put less emphasis on outward signs of accomplishment, and “more emphasis on the things I could control.”
“What I discovered was the only thing I can control is me: my attitude and how I show up every day,” she says.These days, Bennington’s definition of success is whether she’s lived by her own set of values. She says when she pulls that off, she tends to achieve what she set out to do. It’s not that she doesn’t have goals any more — she does — but “you have to be able to detach from them if you want to have any kind of peace in your life.”
There are a lot of bumps on the road to a meaningful work life. It’s hard not to let others’ perceptions of your work or personality derail you at times. Still, perhaps the biggest challenge for some of us is daring to call ourselves successful in the first place.
—Ashley Milne-Tyteis a radio producer and reporter based in New York City. She hosts a bi-monthly podcast called “The Broad Experience” about women in the workplace. Hear the latest episode of "The Broad Experience" about success below, and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.