How to redefine success in a new and authentic way

Categories Ambition
authentic success

We will all remember 2020 as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting lockdown(s), general unrest, and personal challenges. For me, as a university professor, it meant a quick shift away from the university lecture halls to teaching online and a chance to asses what authentic success really means.

The time I could spent on my research was much less, so my number of publications was very low. Since peer-reviewed articles are the first and foremost measure of success in academia, you could say that 2020 was a failure for me.

The lower number of articles probably will mean that it will take a few more years than anticipated to make it to the next step on the academic ladder. But is that all there is? After giving it some thought, and thanks to the reflection that takes places in the monthly DrivenWoman webinars, I have come to a different conclusion.

What is authentic success?

Last year I had deep and meaningful conversations with students going through difficult situations. I learned teaching in a completely different way, and became an expert in a number of tech tools I had never heard of before. Working from home without childcare made me a milder mother and strengthened my connection with my daughter. The time spent at home made me value our place and encouraged me to make our home a more welcoming place. More than anything, I learned to appreciate my family nearby, share their grief and loss, and made a more conscious effort to connect with my family far away. All in all, 2020 brought me valuable life lessons and helped me rethink success.

My personal insights are not an exception. Arianna Huffington published Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder – she argues that money and power, the two traditional metrics of success, are not enough to define success completely. Her work on the Third Metric centres around four parts: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. You can’t be successful if you are feeling miserable, as she personally learned the hard way.

How to measure authentic success

And so, she has set out on a mission to make the world know that there is more to success, and that success also includes:

  • taking proper care of ourselves,
  • getting enough rest,
  • finding time for meditation and contemplation,
  • learn to listen to our inner voice,
  • give our subconscious the time and space to create dreams,
  • always find the time to be kind to strangers,
  • give in to serendipity,
  • volunteer our time, and
  • reflect on what truly matters to us.

When it comes to our human needs, the top of Maslow’s pyramid is the vaguely called “self-actualization”. For me this sounds like authentic success. If the highest of our needs is to achieve our full potential, to be all that we can be, then we may only be able to achieve this by taking a step aside and reflecting on what our highest fulfilment means for us personally. Would it mean a fancier house, or would it rather mean making a lasting impact on our loved ones?

To ponder this, the stoic philosophers as well as later sages urged their pupils to remind themselves of their mortality by contemplating death, a practice known as Memento Mori (“Remember you must die”). While some may find this thought rather morbid, remembering the fact that our days are not limitless can help us go deeper and unearth the values we want to be central to our life. We can also address this question from the perspective of what we’d want to see written as our epitaph. What would: “She worked really hard” convey to the world? In fact, one of the top five regrets of the dying, as recorded by nurse Bronnie Ware, is that they wished they didn’t work so hard.

Reflect and feel gratitude

If I reflect back on my 2020, my year in the trenches, in which, by professional standards, I failed miserably, I feel mostly gratitude: for the time spent with my daughter, for learning to value beauty in my home, for still being employed, for being healthy, and for getting the trust of some of my students to privately discuss how they deal with grief and loss. I learned more from these experiences than that I would have learned by publishing more articles.

Bit by bit, stories like mine are changing the way in which different industries work. In academia, we see that some universities are changing the way they evaluate success by moving beyond the cold numbers of publications and funding acquisition. At Ghent University in Belgium, professors are not evaluated anymore only based on quantitative metrics and annual progress reports, but are instead asked about their goals and what they are proud of. Similarly, the University of Brussels in Belgium has become the world’s first compassionate university – a place where grief, commemoration, and compassion are considered core values and are driving new policies.

If you think about these stories, what would success truly mean for you? Can you define the values that are dearest to your heart? Can you find your purpose and fulfil your full potential? I invite you to reflect on these questions, your path, your traditional and non-traditional successes, and share your story with us in the comments below or in the DrivenWoman Community.

Eva Lantsoght is a civil engineering professor in Ecuador and the Netherlands and founder of PhD Talk

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Thursday, March 11th, 2021

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