I’ve been thinking a lot about what constitutes success recently and how we define our own personal success. Last week, I saw a talk by former Olympic swimmer Elka Graham. One thing she mentioned was that for many of us, we believe being busy means being successful.

Busy = successful?

Back when I was a full-timer working in the city, it definitely felt that way. My friends and I would dress up in high heels and often had new clothes. We would do long hours in the office and meet up for after work drinks after a ‘crazy busy’ day. It didn’t really matter what we were actually doing, but the fact we were ‘busy’ implied that we were successful. I’m not saying these things make you successful, but they help make you ‘feel’ successful.

These days, I’ve left the city rat-race to work as a freelancer. There are no heels (hand me those ugg boots) and I spend 80% of my time in an old pair of leggings. I still occasionally indulge in an after-work drink however my ‘bar’ is now sitting in the backyard with my hubby! I’ve actively tried to ditch the idea of being busy to feel successful.

A change of pace

However, this change in pace has forced me to redefine my version of success. When I started freelancing, I gave myself an earnings goal and month after month, I hit and exceeded it. I can’t deny that seeing those numbers creep up was a great incentive to go out and get more work. I felt really successful.

The last few weeks I’ve been doing an online SEO course. Although there are about 3-4 hours of learnings each week, it’s the actions that are really taking up my time. It’s the kind of course where you need to put in the extra to really benefit from it.

As a result, I’ve redeveloped my website from scratch including learning about self-managed hosting and WordPress development. I’m written my USP and worked on some boring business things that I really should have done when I first started my business. I’ve been going through those course actions methodically and trying new technical tools to understand it all. It’s been a massive month for business and self-development.

However, I’ve looked at my balance sheet and the numbers haven’t been creeping up as quickly as they did last year. Learning costs money as a sole trader and all this business development has come at a cost to my earnings. I have had a few regular clients that I have been working on so I’m still hitting my targets. However, all my extra time is going on my own website development and learning instead of pitching and writing.

What does success even mean?

As a result, I’ve felt a bit conflicted. Although I’m feeling invigorated by all that I’ve achieved, I don’t feel particularly successful. I’ve realised that I need to measure my success on more than just what I earn. My motivation to be a freelancer wasn’t ever about money. It was about extending myself, learning new things and achieving work-life balance.

When I think about it that way, then I feel like the past month has been hugely successful and I should feel that way. In the work-life balance column, my daughter is thriving in preschool (somewhere I could never send her to if I worked regular hours). She’s so excited that there is an event during work hours next week that I can attend with her.

In the learnings column, my business will see a direct benefit from this period of education. Plus I feel so excited about getting my brain active and out of its comfort zone. My personal success is going to have a flow-on effect for my clients and I look forward to seeing what I can achieve for them in the months and years to come.

Hmmm, it’s Friday, maybe we should open up that backyard bar for a well-deserved drink?! Cheers to your success, in whatever its form!

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