A year ago, I would have said that success to me looks like a big house in an affluent area, a posh car, a high-level job, a family, kids in good schools and a home that looks like a Barker and Stonehouse showroom. I assessed my life, I owned a 3-bedroom house, in an affluent area, in the catchment for outstanding schools. I had a job, a car and a Barker and Stonehouse dining tale that I love, halfway there I thought.
‘Is that how I should be measuring my life?’
Halfway where? Was I halfway happy? Is that how I should be measuring my life? Myself? Was my glass half full or half empty? In truth, my glass had been thrown at the wall and smashed to smithereens. My ideals of life weren’t quite working out and I was far from happy. My ‘perfect home’, my first-time buy wasn’t what I expected. The qualifications that I had completed at work had done nothing to further my career. My checklist of ‘happy’ was an endless list of unticked boxes. How was I ever going to be happy when I am so unlucky, so unsuccessful?
Several things happened this year, I was put at risk of redundancy, my husband was put at risk of redundancy, we both had to fight to keep jobs and we endured a gruelling 12-month process of selling our house with plenty of twists and turns along the way. We made 5 offers on new houses to buy, one offer was 7 thousand pounds over the asking price and yet they all got rejected. We eventually got offer number 6 accepted but we lost our buyer and therefore lost our purchase and we were back to square one. My self-esteem took a hammering. I felt far from successful and everything we had built was starting to fall apart. I started to doubt myself a lot, where I was going, where I had been. I had always seen myself as a strong person who had endured a lot in life but I was crumbling. I had no idea who I was and that took me to some dark places.
You know the saying sink or swim? Well I was putting my all in to treading water. I couldn’t swim, I had no direction to swim in and there was no chance I was letting myself sink. I’ve beaten bigger things than this. So, I decided to cut all my expectations and be open to what came my way, be that obstacles or opportunities.
‘It sounds dramatic but I genuinely believed that, I couldn’t take anymore’
During my darker points, I would tell myself, “If X doesn’t happen then that’s the end of me, I won’t cope, I’m giving in”. It sounds dramatic but I genuinely believed that, I couldn’t take anymore, I had nothing left, all my strength and resilience had been used up and I was running on reserves. Each time I set these targets and deadlines for myself, the worst happened and I had to set a new deadline, “OK well if X happens, then I’m really done”. This kept happening and each time I survived. It was horrible having to recover after each ordeal and I couldn’t be bothered doing it over and over again but I had to if I was going to keep treading water. What this constant starting again told me was that I could survive, I could cope. But, to do that, I had to let go of my expectations and go with the flow. Looking back, I had to survive those ordeals to gain the confidence to let those expectations go.
One opportunity that came my way was writing food reviews for a publication. A huge dream of mine! I did my first review and absolutely loved it! I got a couple more invitations to review and a couple more and then a couple more. Each time thinking, if this all ends here, I’ve had a fantastic time. But they keep on coming!
‘I uncovered the ridiculous rules and standards that I had set myself to live by’
Another opportunity that came my way was to engage in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Well to be fair it was more of a necessity at the time but I now can see it for the opportunity that it was. To be able to consider, understand and tackle years of unhelpful thinking that had been contributing to the lack of success that I felt in life. I uncovered the ridiculous rules and standards that I had set myself to live by. Once I had uncovered them, I was able to address each one and assess the validity of it.
I was feeling bored in my career, I needed to reignite the passion that brought me to that kind of work. So, I took on extra responsibility which enabled me to work closer with the people that we support. This immediately lifted my spirits, I was going above and beyond, I was doing more meaningful work and I was using my brain again. The wonderful by-product of this was that it reignited spark in my role and I was getting new ideas and appreciating my work a lot more.
‘I had no idea how strong my marriage was’
As you can probably tell, I spent all this year feeling very stressed and unhappy. I didn’t like myself at all and I looked for things, evidence, to prove to myself that I was an unworthy person. When your brain is looking for these things, it makes anything fit the theory so I had a continual stream of reasons to beat myself up. Now doesn’t that sound like a fun person to live with? Which takes me to my next opportunity. Many things test a marriage and one of those things is depression. I had no idea how strong my marriage was until this year and I saw skills and talents in my husband that I hadn’t really noticed before, despite being together for ten years. I knew he was calm in a crisis and he’s always been a good listener, but he had to get both of us through a tsunami of crises because I had completely given up. He had to listen to me saying some pretty uncomfortable things for a husband to hear and yet he still would stay up all night listening to me, wiping my tears and offering words of wisdom. He could see things that I couldn’t and he helped me to look through a different lens.
Fast forward to the end of the year. We sold the house but we couldn’t find anywhere to buy. We are living in a two-bedroom bungalow that we are renting. I’m off the property ladder. My career doesn’t really have any potential for promotion. Do I feel successful? Yes.
‘I had felt trapped in a life that I didn’t want and couldn’t see a way out of’
Yes, I do. I had felt trapped in a life that I didn’t want and couldn’t see a way out of. Now I sit in my peaceful little home surrounded by fields, with my husband by my side and two beautiful cats at my feet and I think of all the opportunity that lies ahead. The house we might buy in the future, what opportunities my review writing will bring, where I might choose to take my career. I think how lucky I am for the husband and friends that supported me over the last year. Difficult times really do show you who your true friends are. It also shows you which friends to turn to for certain things. I know who to go to if I need a deep conversation about how I’m feeling with someone who can understand or at least empathise. I also know who to go to if I want to have some fun and let my hair down. That’s the beauty of a varied set of friends.
‘Imagine if I had been ‘successful’ in one of those interviews and missed out on all these opportunities’
Success and opportunities are often hidden. When I was 19 I was desperate to become a team leader where I worked. I felt confident that I could do that job and that was the level that I should be working at. I had a few interviews but was never chosen as ‘successful’, despite getting good feedback. I was gutted, I felt the heavy weight of those ‘unsuccessful’ interviews. In the end, I couldn’t see myself progressing with that company and so I left to pursue something I’d always wanted to do and went to work in a prison. Now I look back and I am so glad that I never got a team leader job. I know I would have been stuck there, constantly chasing the next promotion in a career that I had no passion for. Instead that job in a prison was the first step in a career working in rehabilitating those who have committed offences. Something that I am very passionate about. The skills that I have learned in this career have been incredible and I use them in many aspects of life. I have even used them in a private life coaching role that I do in my spare time. Imagine if I had been ‘successful’ in one of those interviews and missed out on all these opportunities.
I am still ambitious, I always will be but my ambitions are different now. They are more in tune with my values and how I want to live my life and not driven by money and status. Success no longer looks like how I thought it did. Success to me isn’t the big shiny things anymore. It’s the stories that you have to tell, the battle scars that nobody else can see, the peace and love inside your home, the opportunities that you grab and the learning that you do and the skills that you develop every single day in life. Don’t get me wrong, many people who own big houses and fancy cars have worked really hard to get where they are and have their own battle scars. They’ve built their careers and put in the hours and earned the finer things in life. What I’ve learned is the pride that I’ve felt when being promoted pales in comparison to the pride I felt when having my first review published. Success is what each individual defines it as but what I have come to decide for myself is that success does not equal happiness, rather happiness equals success.
The short version
• Success is more than fancy things
• Success is dependent on your expectations
• You can survive more than you think
• You never know the strengths of your relationships until they are tested
• Failure is often success in disguise
• Happiness equals success, success does not equal happiness