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What is Success?

When I was planning my career transition from Editor in Chief of HELLO! to finding a more fulfilling and balanced working life, a big part of my journey entailed some deep thinking around the concept of ‘Success’ and what it meant to me.

What does success mean to you?

If you’re reading this, perhaps you too understand that it is big question to answer. Twenty years ago, I would have been able to answer this question pretty easily – it meant securing a promotion to magazine editor, increasing my salary, gaining the respect of my colleagues and industry peers. That is what career success looked like, and it could be easily quantified.

Now, as the years have gone on – the promotion achieved and economic stability getting there – I was spending a lot of the time feeling stressed, anxious and unhappy. The phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ ringing true, even though I was flat out in meetings, at events and hitting deadlines with a brilliant team of people around me.

It was lonely because I had lost my sense of self. My creativity was dwindling, my focus was hard to find. I felt as though I was ricocheting through life from one urgent thing to the next – and that included keeping on top of family commitments, school requirements and home admin as well as the demands of my job. It began to have an impact on my health. I experienced regular bouts of anxiety for the first time ever, the fear of dropping a ball causing me to question whether I was doing anything very well at all. I was tearful and exhausted, yet I wasn’t sleeping well. I am pretty sure that my experience was also tied in to the hormonal changes I was going through during the perimenopause too. But how on earth could I find the time to start exploring that? It was just another thing to add to an already extensive ‘To Do’ list.

Well soon enough the body catches up with the mind, and for me it turned into a period of psychological exhaustion when I was forced, on doctor’s orders, to take a couple of weeks away from work. I spent that time going on long walks, being at the school gates for my children, and assessing what I wanted my future to look like. I knew for sure that I could not go on like this.

During that time, the question I kept coming back to was, ‘What is success?’

It was on repeat in my mind. It took me two weeks to be able to articulate my response to this question, and do you know what my answer was? It ended up being quite simple: Happiness.

And what is happiness?

To me, happiness is finding the right pathway through life that brings me fulfilment in as many ways as possible – through meaningful connections with people and really listening to and following my inner voice.

Of course, this needs to be rooted in the reality of having paid work to pay bills and support our family, but a successful life simply must be a happy one.

Around this time, I came across this poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson and it struck a chord. This was written in the 19th century but feels so relevant today. I have this poem framed by my desk as a reminder of what success means to me, if I ever go down the rabbit hole of working all the hours and feeling stressed.

Women holding a frame

I especially love the last line: ‘To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

Screen shot it for a reminder and share with anyone who might appreciate it ❤️

So I ask you again: What does success meant to you?

Please take a few moments to think about what your answer to this question might be right now, at this stage of your life. Go for a walk, give it some proper thought. I think you’ll be surprised where this thinking might take you.


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