Hello friends and welcome to The Midlife. Today I wanted to talk about success.
When we hit Midlife, I wonder if part of the doldrums is worrying that we haven’t been a success. By the way, am I the only dork that remembers exactly when they learned a word? The doldrums: Sixth grade, Phantom of the Tollbooth, vocabulary assignment. Anyway, during Midlife there are chapters naturally coming to a close and the timing lends itself to reflection. The problem is we focus on chapters individually without considering the totality of their impact. And we certainly don’t stop to consider all the skills we’ve gained from those chapters and how to creatively apply them towards a new adventure.
I, myself, was completely guilty of this. I don’t even think using the past tense is totally truthful here because I started The Midlife because I didn’t want to be “just a mom”. Like that’s some kind of dirty label women who have stayed home look to shed in our second half.
It comes from the realistic assessment that as your children get older, they don’t need you in a constant minute to minute, their survival depends on it kinda way. So as your time frees up, you look to fill it. Only you’re stuck. Go back to work or not. Start a business. Go back to school. Overwhelmed with uninspiring choices, you choose nothing. Certainly the feelings of failure are ready to seep in. But should the feelings of today (totally fixable by the way) rob you of the absolute successes you achieved by nurturing and keeping other humans alive?
How about if you’re in a career that feels like it’s run its course or a job with no more upside potential? I hope that doesn’t erase any good feelings you once had for your career. I see this often with lawyers and other professions prone to burnout. I’d ask you to remember how happy you were when you got into a school you wanted or got your first job offer and were thrilled. There were moments of glory. Don’t erase them.
But women often get to a point so far passed where they should have left and then declare the whole experience disastrous. I talk often about our dedication and commitment to follow through because we are good girls who follow the rules and don’t disappoint. Maybe we all should be more Kenny Rogers. In retrospect, was there a time to fold ‘em and walk away. Time is precious and I no longer want you to take it for granted. I fervently believe you can uphold your commitments while being true to yourself.
If you wake up everyday asking yourself is this all there is and not feeling successful, you are not alone. But this wake up call in Midlife is the biggest gift if only you will answer. I would ask you to stop thinking of success as a sweeping single analysis of your life. I advocate unpacking individual categories that make up every facet of your human experience. By dissecting the parts from the whole, you can start to consider small, manageable improvements.
I think it’s important that we unpack the definitions of success. I think about success a lot. But not just in the way you may think I think about success.
The concept of success has taken on so many meanings to me as I’ve aged and I wonder even if success isn’t a hot topic of discussion amongst the voices in your head like it is in mine, that maybe a lot of the concepts are very relevant to the way you’re feeling right now.
We may as well start at the obvious measure of success. At least the one we are most often taught to associate with success. Money.
This is the dumbest measure of success. It’s truly the wrong statistic. Let’s say you’re in business and your revenue is $1,000,000. No doubt that’s a goal a lot of us entrepreneurs have. All that number means is that you were able to sell a certain number of units of your product at a certain price. What if it costs you $1.2 million to make a million dollars. Still think that business is successful?
How about measuring client satisfaction. To me, it’s much more important that women are satisfied with the service and advice I provide and that they can point to definitive and positive change in their lives after using my services. If you don’t have satisfied clients, you won’t have a sustainable long-term business. Not successful. Also, it’s not fun to have dissatisfied customers. I don’t think your day to day is going to feel very happy if it’s spent fielding angry calls and putting out fires.
And that tricky money statistic floats into our everyday lives, doesn’t it? Are we not forced into a societal measure of worth based on income? Now certainly you don’t go walking around with a tag that shows how much money your family makes. Or do you? Is there a subconscious tally based on how nice your home is, what neighborhood it’s in, what car you drive, maybe your jewelry or what schools your children go to? Are you measuring your success against a yardstick of these false personal statistics?
A cautionary word of advice from my past life as a financial consultant. If you have nice things because you lease them or extensively borrow to get them, but you’re worried about paying for college or retirement, I don’t know how successful you are. Making a lot of money without using the money to reduce your obligations and stress isn’t worth it in my book.
Now, you know I’m also straight with you so let’s be frank about money. Yes, making money is a metric I track in my business and monitor to ensure that Iam growing in scope and influence. And yes, the money I make does represent freedom and pride to me. To discount that completely would be totally disingenuous. So when I advise women who are starting and growing businesses in Midlife, I never say the money isn’t important. But I do say the money is a feedback metric. We can measure it and set goals for making it but we can’t let it drive the bus.
How about if you work for someone else? My last job in banking was the most money I ever made. And I was a nervous fucking wreck everyday going to work. I had a boss that was a complete psycho, homophobe and misogynist. He so impacted me that I cannot even remember his name. If I could, I’d look him up to see what prison he’s in. Seriously, that’s where he belongs. He definitely could have murdered his wife.
So if you’re killing yourself everyday for a paycheck, are you successful? Not by my definition.
So let’s agree more money is better than less money but we have a lot of other pieces of the puzzle.
You know the saying “if you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing.” I think that really starts to hit home as we start aging. But ask a woman if she feels successful in keeping herself healthy and what do you think her number one metric is? Her weight. If you equate weight with health, I would argue that’s no different than using income to measure success.
But health is a huge area where some properly applied effort can increase your feelings of success; making exercise a habit, feeding yourself good food, ditching alcohol. You know the drill.
But are you implementing successful strategies to make sure you feel and yes, even look your best? I’m not going to apologize for some measure of vanity. I don’t think you want to either.
I do know that when you are doing the things you know make you feel better, you’re very pleased with yourself. And I also know that when don’t, you feel guilty. You associate weight gain with failure. You feel badly about yourself. Health is a choice worth making. And as with most success, you’ll enjoy byproducts like yes, weight loss.
How successful are your relationships? This is a juicy one because there’s no quantitative measure for that, is there? You’re either feeling at ease, loving and loved… or you’re not. And I’m not just talking about your romantic partner. I’ve devoted whole episodes to marriage so I don’t want to dive into that today.
How about we focus on successful friendships. Warren Buffet said his measure of success was whether or not people liked him. Easy for a billionaire to say. But also weirdly insecure. Rather than worry about who likes me, I feel successful building relationships with people I like. I’m a tough nut to crack. If you’re in, then you’re in. But also, if you’re out, you’re out. Although I’m highly confident that you did something worthwhile to earn your way out of my good graces.
First and foremost, if you are feeling lonely or like you don’t have any friends, you’re going to have to step it up. You cannot simply sit around and wait for invitations to arrive on a silver tray carried by a footman. Everybody’s busy. Everybody’s tired. But you need friendship. It is critical to feeling you have a full and successful life.
But friendship is fragile and fleeting. Especially for women our age. It’s not uncommon to have friends scattered around the country or to have local friendships that revolved around schools and activities from when your children were younger. If those relationships didn’t evolve past the child rearing phase over the past decades, don’t count them out just yet. With a little sun and water you may find they bloom anew. No matter what, you’re going to have to put yourself out there. Your effort won’t always be returned. You may always have to be the instigator. But taking a walk with a friend or picking up the phone to chat is an endorphin hit that feels like a win.
And if you have a number of relationships that have blown up, I challenge you to spend some time examining your role. No matter the circumstances, there is always something to learn to help you be more successful in new relationships or shore up the ones important to you so that they don’t fall victim to any patterns.
There is an unquestionable void in Midlife. I think that void is the realization that you may have not yet fulfilled your full potential. There’s a concept in real estate that a property’s value is only fully realized if it’s being used for its highest and best use. I know there are many of your chapters where you have been operating at full steam. Don’t forget those. Don’t minimize their importance.
But a lot of those assignments may be winding down. That doesn’t mean you’re failing at this moment. It just is a sign that you have room to be more successful. Midlife may feel like you’re an empty field in the middle of your city’s bustling downtown. Clearly not the highest and best use. Don’t just sit there and let the weeds grow. Time to draft some ideas, make some plans and start building a future rich with opportunities.
I’d like to make the distinction that the opposite of success is not failure. I think this is incredibly important when you start thinking about incorporating some big and exciting goals into your future. I see so many women allow themselves the chance to dream a little and then quickly outline all the reasons it can’t or won’t happen. Please know there’s a lot of space to explore between being risk averse and paralyzing yourself into complete inaction.
It is true. Whatever that big goal is may not work out exactly as you envision today at the onset. But I promise you that’s not the point. What you learn and who you become in dreaming, setting an intention and working towards a different kind of life is what makes large scale, lifelong changes that stick.
I mentioned that my vision of success has changed greatly as I’ve aged. Success is no longer something I set out to achieve. Success is something I bring with me to each new challenge. I will never be done setting new challenges and I will never achieve each and every one, certainly not in the way I originally thought I would. I know that now and I accept it. And I will not allow it to dissuade me from setting off on new adventures.
I think feeling successful boils down really to finding peace and purposefulness. If you don’t know my distinction between purpose and purposefulness, check out Episode 22, Don’t Find Your Purpose. I dare you to challenge yourself in every aspect of your life and to reject failure as the opposite of success.
I love that meme that says when something in life doesn’t work out, just yell plot twist. When outcomes veer from expected results, instead of being disappointed, get curious. Leave open the possibility that the new path may lead to a better situation than you could have ever imagined. The point of life is nothing like the board game. You are not here to simply pass certain milestones and end up at the finish line first. There is no finish line. Only the path. Let yours meander and bend. Stop measuring success by external gauges. I want you to be able to put your head down on the pillow each night and feel successful for showing up for yourself and living your best life everyday.
If you want to talk about success and how it relates in your life or random vocabulary words and when you learned them, my email inbox is always open to you.
Wife of one. Mother of three. Writer, podcaster, entrepreneur, adviser. Don’t make me choose. Co-founder, The Midlife.