What Success Looks Like

By Guest contributor Izzy Elwyn

Seven years ago, I was working as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. Each morning, I’d arrive at the store around 6 AM and begin stocking the shelves with new releases and restocks of old classics. It was always interesting to me to stock the magazines and see the faces of business men and women who were proclaimed by the world-at-large as ‘successful’. As I scanned the glossy covers with their eye-catching blurbs and titles, I’d daydream about the day I would feel as confident as those people looked. I’d imagine what my version of successful would look like.

Venture to ask yourself this very question.

To say my thoughts on what constitutes ‘success’ have been mercurial would be an understatement.

  • When I was 8 years old, success meant being an archeologist and discovering new dinosaur bones.
  • At age 15, to me success was being an actress.
  • When I was 24, life as a librarian indicated success.
  • And by age 27, success was life as a marine biologist.

No matter what career I imagined, I hung my ideas of success on work and purpose, clinging and clawing towards ideals I believed would bring me meaning and fulfillment. Eventually, I found a job and a career path in tech, which challenged me and gave me focus. My life began to feel stable, and I threw myself into my work. I lived for the feeling of success I got from doing my job well and helping people around me.

Then at age 31, everything changed.

I found myself needing to move on from the job that had defined me for the previous two years. I had no solid plan, just the certainty that the distress I was experiencing was impacting me too severely and I needed to take care of myself. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I was completely gutted the day I turned in my resignation. I felt as though I’d failed, and that I was willingly throwing away all the progress I’d made in my career.

I set my next goal to find my first job as a software developer, but the void I felt from leaving my previous tech job was devastating to my self-confidence. So, while I searched for that job, I took some much-needed time to reflect.

Talking to my roommate, my friends, and thinking back on my own ideas of success at various times in my life underscored that the idea of success not only looks different to different people, but it changes over time. When I had tied success to a title, a salary, a state of mind, it was all too easy to become terrified of losing any one of them. Jobs change and evolve, just like we do as people. I asked myself: In an ever-changing world, how do we find a feeling of accomplishment if that can seemingly be wiped away by changing circumstance?

I came to realize that hanging my sense of success and purpose on career goals would leave me constantly in peril of losing my sense of self again. I acknowledged for the first time that, while my work and what I do are incredibly important to me, working on myself consistently and thoughtfully was the best way to move through my life. ‘Success’ had shifted for me once again. My goals and my sense of what success looked like became a never-ending work-in-progress, rather than a solid finish line.

Woman looking over various images at a table.
You are never done with YOU! Your definition of success doesn’t have to be one-and-done either.

What you want in your life is allowed to–and even should–change over time. I don’t see myself now as a failed archeologist or a failed actress, I see myself as a complex human who has worked slowly towards a career that suits me best. I still love science, history and the arts, but I’ve come to a place where I understand that those things don’t have to be my whole life.

I work hard every day to try not to get too caught up in wondering, “What’s next?” Instead, I take life one day at a time, and I look for opportunities that align with what I do well. I find things I’d like to get better at and focus on improving those skills. I also keep an eye out for tasks and activities that would best suit those skills, while trying not to fixate or hang my hopes and dreams on any title, salary or any of the usual indicators of success.

I still have days when I struggle, but I am much more mindful of my mistakes, desires and expectations. That doesn’t mean I will avoid making those mistakes again, but I try to not let mistakes define me. If I can learn something new from each mistake, and be willing to admit what those mistakes were–not just to myself, but to others as well–I feel confident I’m on a good path forward. And today, when I Go Get The World, I remember that how I define that world–and my success–is completely up to me.

Woman looking off in the distance
Don’t let other people’s definition of success stop you from defining how
YOU want to Go Get The World!

Isadora Elwyn grew up in the small-town of New London, Ohio. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Ecology from The Ohio State University, and her Software Development Certification from WeCanCodeIT. She works as a Software Developer and Team Lead at ScriptDrop in Columbus, Ohio, and runs a local meetup for Emotional Intelligence in Tech called Columbus Tech EI. Her favorite non-work past-times include crochet, horror movies, table top games, and hanging out with her dog Rey and her ball python Faust.


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