Annie interviewed with numerous law firms—from boutique to regional to international—and with companies seeking in-house counsel, but she received no offers. She began to feel trapped by the decision she had made so many years earlier, when she was just a teenager. "On paper," she says, "I had everything I ever wanted. Or at least what I thought I wanted—six-figure salary, successful career, supportive husband, beautiful house, luxurious vacations, and legitimate net worth. Yet it wasn't enough." Annie's reflection revealed that she had reached her goal of becoming what most people would call successful, but she says that she "had failed in finding work that was meaningful" to her.
In other words, Annie was successful, but she didn't feel like a success.
Realizing that the professional life she had chosen was no longer aligned with her values, Annie sought the services of a life coach to help bring clarity to what had become a very confusing situation. In less than two weeks, she had her answer. Says Annie, "The values and priorities of my younger self were not the same as those of a thirtysomething professional."
While independence to a teenage Annie meant not having to rely on her parents any longer, independence for a thirtysomething Annie meant:
starting a family, not working full-time while raising babies, being able to travel for longer than a week at a time, knowing with certainty that I wouldn't have to work on any given weekend, being able to live wherever I want regardless of whether or not I'm licensed to work there.
Annie's definition of her most-important value—freedom--had changed, and it was now in direct conflict with her chosen career—the practice of law. The moment Annie realized that this was the source of her unhappiness, she knew that something would have to change if she was ever to truly become a success and not just successful.
After considering a variety of different options—starting her own business, going back to graduate school, pursuing an entirely different kind of legal job—Annie left lawyering behind once and for all, and instead became a life coach. In this way, she could achieve the kind of freedom that her thirtysomething self craved, while helping others find their paths in life—making a real difference in the lives of her clients.
And perhaps most gratifying for Annie is that this new brand of freedom has given her the time she needs to make a difference in the life of her daughter. Says Annie:
I didn't want her to know me as an attorney. I didn't want to teach her it's okay to trade her happiness for a career she hates just because she's good at it or earns a hefty salary or doesn't know what else to do. I wanted her to know she gets to decide what success looks like for her.
We all want to experience success in our lives—to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, to make enough money to live comfortably, to surround ourselves with real friends and a loving family that bring us warmth and joy, and to make a lasting difference in the world around us.
But what exactly 'is' success, and why do so many of us have such a hard time being a success instead of just successful?
THE NATURE OF SUCCESS
Each of us has our own idea of what success is; there's no easy one-size-fits-all definition that can be applied to every person. Consider the cases of Brenda Barnes and Indra Nooyi.
Brenda Barnes, who passed away in 2017, was for a time one of the most powerful women in business. Starting as a business manager at Wilson Sporting Goods, Barnes worked her way up through the executive ranks as vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, various top executive positions within PepsiCo, and then in 1996, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Pepsi-Cola North America—the largest beverage division of a huge global organization with $7.7 billion in annual revenues.
When Barnes resigned her position running Pepsi-Cola North America after just a year and a half to spend more time with her elementary-school-age children and her husband, she triggered a firestorm in the media. Some applauded her for putting her family first, while others felt she had done the cause of increasing the number of women in the boardroom and in top executive spots an extreme disservice.