Has 2020 changed our definition of success?

"My relationship with the concept of "success" has been, historically, not a particullary health one"

My relationship with the concept of ‘success’ has been, historically, not a particularly healthy one.


Success has always been one of my biggest drivers in life. I guess I wanted to prove myself – to prove that I had it in me. That it was the thing that made me special.


As a kid, I wanted to get the highest marks in English. I’d submit my poems to anthologies. Start a new club every other week or create a new ‘magazine’ for the class (side note – said magazine was a few pages stapled together with me writing about the latest Britney exploits or the fact that Backstreet was indeed back).


Fast forward to my teenage years. I never went without, but money always held a bad taste for my family. I – like many – was one of the students who needed her travel subsidised, was working every free hour she could and relied heavily on her bursary. In those moments, I made myself a promise: I would build a career, travel the world and make a shed load of money… And I’d do it without ever having to rely on anyone else.


Looking back, I can see that my success hadn’t been for me. It was all about showing the rest of the world that I was good enough.


It’s easy to ‘keep on plodding on’ with unhealthy mentalities… Until we’re forced to take a good, hard look at them.


Wanting to make money and travel the world isn’t wrong. Wanting to do it on your own terms isn’t wrong either.


But, as 2020 snatched those things out of my hands in a heartbeat, I realised that I had placed enormous amounts of pressure on myself to tick the success boxes. Without them, I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything. And, if I wasn’t achieving anything, then what was I actually contributing to the world? To my own journey?


Of course, I – luckily – now know that this isn’t the case. Not at all. Because I’ve finally found my new definition of success. A version that is centred around the things that matter most. It turns out, I’m not alone in that shift.

2020 gave us the gift of a new perspective. It gave us permission to listen to our heart and welcome in more of those things that truly served us… And to get rid of the things that didn’t.

Success can feel like such a hard and fast word. 


It’s a loaded word; something we search for, and set obscenely high expectations on. 


“I’ll be happy when…”


“Once I reach this income, I’ll be able to…”


“I’ll have finally hit peak success once I…”


It doesn’t help that the ‘actual’ definition of success is “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence”. So, basically, once you’re rich, people like you and you feel superior to others. We see those who epitomise this version of success and envy them, despite being totally unaware of what their lives are really like. Yet, one of the major things that this pandemic has taught us is that even with all the money, friends and *ahem* ranking in the world, you can’t stop sh*t hitting the fan. We’re all riding these waves together – it’s just that some of us have bigger, snazzier boats to tackle the tides.


It’s made me think… Maybe the word ‘success’ simply has too many negative connotations for me? Do I want a successful life, or do I want an abundant one? Do I want to feel successful, or nourished? Do I need success, or fulfilment?


Or, actually, are they all the same thing?


2020 gave us the gift of a new perspective. It gave us permission to listen to our heart and welcome in more of those things that truly served us… And to get rid of the things that didn’t.


I’ve realised that while money matters, I want to build it in a sustainable way that doesn’t burn me out. I don’t want money to buy flash cars or fill my wardrobe with expensive clothes; I want it so that I can go through life knowing that my future is protected. I want it so that I can, eventually, invest in a house and lay down the roots that I’ve never really had. I want it so that I can treat my niece and nephews. So that I can buy the damn book if I want to, without thinking “oh but should I really?” 


Lauren Gray – yoga teacher extraordinaire – agrees: 


“2020 has taught me financial success is nothing without being able to share it with people. I miss taking my mum for lunch, buying my god daughters gifts and watching them open them, taking my partner out for the day, being able to spend money on a trip away and earn a break. Earning will always matter, but now my focus is to fund the things that allow me to live my best life in this moment.”


As I pondered over my new version of success, I also realised that while a lot of my desires for life were the same – such as moving my business away from a time for money model so that I had more time to write fiction and see my loved ones – the way in which I wanted to get there had shifted enormously. I’m now okay with it taking time. In fact, I welcome it. Before, I always told myself that if I put in ALL THE HOURS and ALL THE ENERGY now, I’d reap the rewards later down the line. Then I’d be happy; the puzzle pieces would fall into place, and the stress and anxiety would be worth it. 


Now? I don’t want to take any of my time for granted. I would rather take twice as long to get to my ‘point of success’ but be calm, happy and healthy in the process. As I spoke to my community about their views on success pre-2020 vs now, this seemed to be a common switch.


Sam Griffiths – the founder of Healthy in Business (and self-professed teacher of unnatural athletes) – said:


“I’d actually become distracted by ‘success’, and now I’ve almost moved back towards a more purposeful path of creating work that helped others, and doing what I do best… teaching.


“Money is still a motivator, but I want that for travel, experiences for my kids and investments for them. You could earn £150k, £1.5 million or £15 million – it’s about choosing what is enough for you and being happy and having fun while earning it. I’d much prefer taking longer to get there if it meant I was doing what I loved and figuring out how it all fit.”


Digital marketing expert Abi (from Abi’s Way Digital) had similar views:


“My goals haven’t changed per se, but the speed at which I go to judge my lack of productivity towards achieving them is much slower. I’m allowing myself more grace and acceptance now compared to 2020 when I would go off track. I’m grateful for the change of pace and perspective.”


I love that word ‘grace’. I think it’s something we all need more of; especially those of us who have been forced to repave our pathway to success. Hayley, a PR pro at Creatively Hayley, has seen her business operations change exponentially during COVID. Homeschooling plus entertaining a 10 month old meant she had no choice but to change the way she approached success in her business.


“I’ve come full circle on what success means for me. It still looks and means the same, but I’m on a different path to get there. I want the same outcomes, but I need to do things a little differently. 


“This path is a bit more hectic and chaotic than the one I planned a year ago… Saying that, I’m curious to see where it takes me!”


I wonder… is the common thread that success has moved from an external concept to an internal need? Are we finally finding a way to acknowledge our emotional drivers and build lives that fit around them?


Unless you take the time to decide what success – or serenity, or contentment, or whatever you want to call it – means to you, then you’ll end up spending a lifetime following someone else’s narrative.


There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s yours, and yours alone. But, I would encourage you to cultivate the space to look inwards and ask yourself: “Does success look different now? Have the goal posts shifted? Do I need to reconsider the places I’m pouring my time and energy?”


It may be the exact same. It may be wildly different. Whatever and wherever that seed of hope and motivation is, water it with all your might. Trust it and cherish it.


And in the words of a dear woman who inspires me beyond all measure – just do what you love, and everything else will fall into place.