How Do You Define Success?

Today I have the honour of guest posting for ItStartsWith.Us, an incredible project whose goal it is to build a global community of individuals focused on making a positive impact in the lives of the people around them.  You can read the post here, and if you’d like to comment, just click on the link below. 🙂

I first moved to Canada when I was fifteen years old, leaving behind England, the country that had raised me, enveloped me in rich culture, history, and left an insatiable appetite for all things British.  My childhood was filled with visits to old cathedrals, quality time with my grandparents, and spending as much time as I possibly could outside.  When I wasn’t playing football with other kids on the street, we were choreographing dances and orchestrating fundraiser talent shows for the neighbours.  I remember feeling an incredible sense of pride when letters from the British Red Cross and the World Wildlife Fund arrived, thanking us for our donation which, looking back, could only have been miniscule – but we didn’t care.  We were helping, and it made us feel like pretty decent kids.

Soon after I landed in Canada, I turned into a little bit of a recluse.  Overwhelmed by culture shock, I retreated into a shell, worried about being judged, about being different – all the while observing just how different things were here.  I’d come from a school where students were scolded for having their shirts untucked, or for wearing more than one pair of earrings.  Here, kids were in designer hoodies and jeans, with highlights in their hair and fake tans, their faces masked with heaps of lip gloss and eyeliner.  At the time, I remember feeling so different, so out of the social loop.  Everyone was so focused on being popular and liked, and I didn’t know what to do.  Every teenager wants to fit in – but I’d come from leading groups of kids where we’d spend our spare time singing, fundraising, and trying to make a difference in the world – and here I was, surrounded by people spending their parents’ money on fancy clothes and trying to look cool.  Our priorities clashed, and I was overcome with a longing to fit in, but to also stay true to my beliefs. I kept quiet and observed.

I got my first job at sixteen, and like many teenagers, worked my way through a series of corporate, hierarchical retail jobs where emphasis was placed on money, and success was determined by the number of additional things you could sell to people who didn’t want or need them.  It made me uncomfortable, but it paid the rent for years before I landed my first office job.  It was in a little print shop, and I was the graphic designer.  I was told I was to charge customers “by the minute”.  Sweet old ladies would come in asking for Christmas letters to be typed, and I’d do it with a smile – but was punished if I made their couple of word changes without charging them extra.  I stayed there for two years before landing my current job – at my first non-profit organization.

The culture shift was incredible.  There was zero focus on money – this place was simply in existence to help people, to teach them skills they could use to move forward in life.  Success was determined by the number of people who found employment – people whose lives were changed for the better.  I’ve never been happier – in a world which seems so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, on being popular, on making more money – society seems to be dominated by a self-focused mentality.  We have to be more attractive, thinner, live in bigger houses, make more money than everyone else, and then what? We’re “successful”?  As I’ve grown up, especially in the last few years, my definition of success has changed drastically.  Success, to me, is no longer defined in monetary terms or by possessions.  I’ve seen so many people in my work whose lives are affected by bad circumstances, poor choices, peer pressure, domestic abuse… the list goes on.  There are so many people out there who face such hardships behind closed doors, and in this self-serving world in which we live, sometimes a shift in what we deem important can make all the difference on earth.  Your smile may be the only one someone sees all day.  Your small act of kindness or compassion – asking them how they are, holding the door open, carrying their bags – may just be the most touching thing they experience all week.  Taking a few minutes in a day to take the focus off ourselves, and onto making a small difference in someone’s life, can go a long way.  That’s why I was thrilled when I heard about the ItStartsWith.Us project.  The more people making small changes in the world, the better off the planet.  We’re so privileged, sitting in our warm homes, accessing the internet with anything we desire at our fingertips.  There are so many people out there affected by so much adversity, and I think if we could all make a little shift in focus, from ourselves to helping others, the world would be a very different place.

I encourage you to take a moment today to really count your blessings, because despite the curveballs life throws our way, we have so much in our lives for which to be thankful.  Take a moment not to think about what you’re going to have for supper tomorrow, or where you’re going to go out on Friday night – but about what you can do to make someone else’s day that little bit better, no matter how small.  You never know how much of a difference it could make.

If you’d like to comment directly at ItStartsWith.Us, please click here.