“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”Albert Einstein
I’ve had a steady stream of emails and messages in my inbox this year. They are from people of all ages, all countries, and from all walks of life. But they share a common theme. These excerpts below, shared with permission, could be from any of those people, although this conversation is one I had with Debbie.
I feel like such a failure, Nic. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I thought by now I’d have success and that my life would look different to this. I’ve done all the courses and followed all the experts and I keep on trying. I have a vision board and I do all the visualisations. I feel like a fat fraud, a loser, and that I have completely wasted my life. My existence seems pointless. – Debbie
So what would a successful life look like to you? What’s on your vision board? – Nicole
I’d be thin. Fit. Popular. I’d have a seven figure income as a successful entrepreneur. We’d live in a much bigger fancier house and all my kids would be in private school. We’d be having ski holidays in Japan. I’d have glamorous friends. And my life would mean something. I’d really be making a difference. And my husband could leave the job he hates. And our car would be deluxe and I would have a cleaner. I’d be a household name too, and not in a Big Brother reality TV kind of a way but because I contribute to charities and am fabulous and people want to know me. Does that sound vain? I am not trying to sound vain I am trying to live my best life and have my best year yet. Can you please help me? I don’t know what to do and it is crushing me to feel that I wasted my life. – Debbie
I asked Debbie if I could get back to her.
Then I reached out to two people who know her well, and asked them a simple question – Tell me about mum/Debbie. Here are their answers.
I love my mum. She gives the best hugs and she lets my friends stay over and cooks for us and teaches us how to bake stuff and things like that. She also taught us how to sew. Even my brother can sew and so can his friends. It’s cool. Some of my friends have awful parents who don’t care and mum is extra kind to them and treats them like her own kids and runs round after them and stuff you know like takes them to sports practice and doesn’t let them give up on their studies. Mum runs the cake stall every year at school and has done heaps of fundraising for our hockey team and because of her getting the other parents organised and helping her our team went to the nationals and to New Zealand. Every single kid even kids whose parents couldn’t do the co-payment. She’s the best mum in the world. – Imogen, aged 14. Debbie’s daughter
I’m proud of my wife, Debbie. Not many people know that she became a weight loss coach after she hurt her back nursing and then experienced bad post-natal depression and put on a lot of weight about ten years ago. She is so fit and healthy now. Not one ounce of my Deb is fake or showy or selfish. She’s the kindest most genuine person I know and she has helped so many women feel better about themselves. It’s hard for mums these days. There are so many expectations on them. Being home together during COVID has helped us all to see what matters and for us it’s family, being a good person, and being true to yourself. We work as a team, and we have good friends, a solid social life and great kids. Our house is always full of music and laughter. You don’t need a lot to be happy, you just need enough money to pay the bills and a bit left over, and you need love, and we’ve got tonnes of that. We’re really blessed and we have a good life. – Sam, Debbie’s husband
I sent these statements to Debbie, and I asked her: Look inside your heart. What does success really look like to you? Is it something personal, based on your values and internal drivers, or is it coming from someone else’s definition of what success should look like? Using external definitions you’ll never be happy. But with what I found out today I’d say that you’re certainly successful, and that your life matters to many, and has already influenced many in positive ways.
Yes, she said, that makes me feel so good, but… Oh, I feel stupid for saying this… I should just count my blessings.
But what? I encouraged gently.
I never have enough time for me, she said.
And there we had it. It wasn’t a success issue – it was a forgot-to-make-time-for-me issue.
If you had time for you, if your business and life were successful, what would you do? I asked.
I’ve always wanted to quilt. I’d set up my sewing room and I would quilt. Just for the love of it. Big complicated quilts. And I’d get a cleaning lady and someone to cook once a week.
Could you do that anyway? Could you afford to get a cleaning service now? Could you make room for quilts now? I asked.
She looked at me like I was an idiot. And then her face lit up.
Yes, she said. We could convert the garage into a workroom for me, or even get a little shed thing built out the back. And I could make all the kids put in $10 a fortnight from their job money and allowance money if they won’t clean, and Sam and I can pay the rest and we could get a cleaner. Maybe we could get take-out one night or someone else could cook instead of me.
Would that feel like success? I asked.
I don’t know, Debbie answered honestly, but I’d like to try! I don’t want to be old and have never done the things that mattered just to me. I just thought I had to make enough money first and be successful enough that it would be okay for me to take time to do my own thing. Apart from that, is it okay to only want what I already have?
Wanting what you already have is a fortunate place to be. Do you still see yourself as a failure?
No. No I don’t, she said. I guess I was just asking the wrong people. My business coach tells me I am missing opportunities and not hustling hard enough. I thought he was right. I thought I lacked ambition.
Do you want to hustle? I asked.
No. I want to quilt!
There is so much unrealistic pressure on people to have amazing careers and businesses, to be rich, thin, popular and with a huge social media presence and following. But is that what life satisfaction and true happiness is all about? Is that even a decent measure of ‘success’?
I have found that life can be meaningful simply by slowing down enough to really live in the moment, and by living true to your values, by taking an interest in the world around you, by living your life with awareness and gratitude, and a deep appreciation of the journey. It’s the journey that matters. The relationships we create, the small moments of time slowed down as we deeply engage with an interest or a person, the feelings that rise up in us in response to music or art or nature or the smile of a child.
We have value, simply because we are human. Success is such a personal measurement. Sure there are people who are driven by a love of business, or a deep need to excel at something, but it’s also okay not to be one of those people. (Let’s also table this here – I have a number of rich and famous and successful clients who have lives that everyone envies and who are deeply unhappy, lonely and unfulfilled! Money helps, but it can’t buy happiness.)
One of the blessings to have come from the pandemic is that we have slowed down enough to question the busy lives we lived before, and to understand that connection, simple pleasures, curiosity, engagement and kindness matter more than we had remembered.
So, please, before you keep giving yourself a hard time for wasting your life or feeling like a failure, reset your inner compass. Look honestly at your life. Look at what you are striving for or judging yourself by, and ask yourself if this is truly who you are and what matters to you. 2020 is a year for making different choices. Maybe it’s time for you to choose differently too.
Much love, Nicole xx