This is a tricky question. I remember being baffled by it when my first coach, Valerie, put it to me over 20 years ago. “My bottom line? How much I’m making, of course,” I responded thinking, isn’t that what everyone wants?
She challenged me further. What truly made me feel that I was a success, she asked.
I’ll never forget what a career counselor told me years before Valerie’s inquiry. I had wanted to get a job as an arts administrator when my children were still small. What I thought I wanted was to have a valid reason to leave the house, earn a paycheck and wear pumps. In preparation for applying for that job, I’d gone to my alma mater for help with my resume. The woman in the Career Services department listened as I described my lifestyle–at home with three kids, teaching art to elementary school students two days a week after school, and exhibiting my work at craft fairs. To my surprise, her response was, “Many people would LOVE the life you’ve created.”
Really? I wondered. Really, I now know.
But guess what? Joy and happiness can’t be measured. As a camper, in my childhood, there was a Merit Chart posted on the side of the main lodge, a grand old white colonial house in Bantam, Connecticut. Each camper’s name was listed on the left. Then, every possible achievement from archery skills to swimming levels and trailblazing aptitudes (fire-building, setting up tents, etc.), were listed above to the right. You got a gold star each time you completed an activity that was up there.
I could visually measure where I stood among my fellow campers. If I worked harder, my gold stars would extend further to the right than theirs. It felt do-able, clear and safe. If I have the most stars, I must be doing well was my way of thinking back then. For so many years, that model worked. If I’m ahead, I’m winning.
But as the years passed by, I noticed that even though I was in the black, I wasn’t necessarily as happy as I thought I’d be. My coach pointed out that my Ladder of Success might be leaning against the wrong wall.
What I know makes me happiest now is work that brings me closer to my clients–coaching, leading retreats and Mastermind Groups and having these women share openly and intimately about their lives. Enough with the gold stars and outward symbols of success. I want to know what’s happening behind the trophies and certificates.
I have a slew of spiritual tools that I combine with my coaching strategies. Asking a client to ‘trust the process’ is a leap of faith. Suggesting that she ‘allow the Universe to manifest’ her particular request takes courage and deep belief. Wayne Dyer said, “When you believe it, you’ll see it.” More and more, the clients I’m attracting know that success is much more than a dollar amount and that letting go of control, trusting the Greater Good and not micro-managing, have yielded greater successes than they could have dreamed up themselves.
How I measure my success today is my own peace of mind, joy, and feeling of abundance achieved by recognizing my value and not having my means define me.