With so many great holidays to celebrate this time of year, there is one holiday in the bunch that will forever be my favorite– my anniversary! It’s the anniversary of my farewell from a high intensity career in dentistry. It has been 4 years, and it is so hard to believe that so much time has already passed. It’s fitting that it all came to fruition around Thanksgiving, because gratitude is the one feeling that never wavers. I know I made the right decision, and I’m so thankful those days are behind me. What does waver, though, is my perception of my own level of success. Sometimes I feel like I am exactly where I should be, and other times that annoying internal voice loves to convince me that I’m not successful enough. You see, as someone who was drawn into the glitz and glamour of dentistry, I’ve had to work really hard to undo old beliefs and redefine success for myself over the past few years. I had to let go of the respect. I had to let go of the status. I had to let go of the big money.
I had to let go of the idea that being important was the only way I could feel important in this world.
My questions around success struck me hard several months ago when I grabbed the local paper, and the front page said, “Faded Star, The Life and Times of Colorado’s Amanda Peterson.” Do you know who Amanda Peterson is? Maybe you remember Cindy Mancini and Ronald Miller. Amanda was the actress who played the beautiful, popular, sensitive, and cool high school girl in Can’t Buy Me Love. With the photo of Cindy Mancini adorning the front page of the paper, I stepped back in time and remembered how much I wanted to be her. With a natural charm and an unequivocal beauty, she was who every young girl in the 80’s wanted to be. She had it all! Amanda Peterson’s charisma shone through into her character, and even seeing her photo in the paper almost 30 years later, all those feelings of admiration rushed back. I could absolutely see how Ronald Miller and the rest of the world fell so in love with her.
Sadly, her story didn’t play out how you would have expected this charmed young lady’s life to unfold. I can’t say I remember seeing much of her after that– until now. Her rise to success was followed by years of personal struggle– a departure from a blossoming career, as well as a life of arrests for drugs, alcohol, and even child abuse– and eventually an early death.
How could the girl who had it all let it all go like this?
I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who seemed to have and be it all could not believe that herself and could be so unhappy. I can’t know what caused her so much strife in her life. Maybe it was mental illness or low self-esteem, or maybe she simply didn’t enjoy her career the way many of us don’t enjoy our own careers. That’s not for me to know, but what I do know is that her larger-than-life success wasn’t enough. You can have all the success in the world, but if you don’t see it, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter if the entire world sees your brilliance. If you don’t believe it, it means nothing. And it dawned on me that many of us go through this on different levels. My own career success wasn’t enough for me, but to everyone who knew me, it seemed like I had it all too. That was a lie.
I may have been successful on paper, but I was failing at life. I was failing at being me.
I know this is the same for many of you out there because you tell me– a lot! Today I ask you this: what good is our success if in achieving it, we fail in the other areas of our lives? What good is career success if we fail to find time to support our own health, or if we neglect our families, or sacrifice our own happiness, or even if we hate our lives because of it? That is not success. My old definition of success obviously came at the expense of my own happiness, and though I know the truth, it still takes a lot of time and effort to undo many years of harboring old beliefs.
Of course success always comes with some level of sacrifice. Some sacrifices are good, but some are not. What are you sacrificing to be successful? Are you stuck in a life that seems “successful” but is secretly tearing you apart? Maybe success isn’t about the dollar signs, the title in front of your name, and what others perceive about you, but more about your own state of mind. Maybe it’s time to reconsider it for yourself. It may be hard work to undo those old beliefs, but I can tell you the trade-off is definitely worth it.