Success and happiness

Thursday, November 17, 2016 Permalink

A month or so ago I had 7hrs of driving for a 90min work meeting. I downloaded an audiobook for the occasion – not realising until too late that it was a novella and would occupy me for less than 2hrs.

Thankfully I had a gazillion podcasts on hand to keep me company. A series I particularly enjoyed was Let It Be, by Kelly Exeter and Brooke McAlary. Their discussions centre around living simply and authentically, and the sessions that resonated focussed on happiness, success and… our legacy.

In particular I could relate to the sense that – what we often think will make us happy – doesn’t. And what we think of as success, doesn’t ultimately feel like it.


And then last week I came across an article by Christie Inge, a life coach whose pragmatic approach appeals (and whose quotes and memes I’m constantly sharing on social media!).

Christie’s post about ‘getting what you want’ reminded me of the Let It Be podcasts and has been marinating in my little mind ever since.


Like Kelly and Brooke, Christie talks about ‘success’ not necessarily bringing us happiness, and that – in fact – the success we may aspire to may not be what we are seeking after all.

When young, success to me would have centred around marrying and having a family. I wasn’t particularly professionally ambitious in my teenage years or early 20s. I’d been the younger less-talented sister of a high-achieving brother and was kinda accustomed to playing that support role. I imagined myself with some high powered / wealthy / sporty type of person and figured I’d have children and live happily ever after.

No romance was forthcoming and by the time I hit my 30s, I started to realise that if I wanted something decent from life, it was up to me to get it. I figured success was about doing well in my career, having interesting and edgy jobs, earning a good salary and – hopefully – enjoying what I did. Or at least not hating it too much.
And of course, I still secretly hoped I’d meet someone, fall in love and have a family.

Fast forward to my early(ish) 40s. I had a nice apartment (and hefty mortgage), a nice car and interesting job. To most, I was doing okay.

However, my father had passed away and the option of children was taken off the table. I had little life outside of work. I guess, in Kelly and Brooke-speak I started thinking about my legacy.

What would I leave behind when I was gone?

Our legacy

Kelly and Brooke talk about success meaning little if you’ve no one to share it with. True. And there was a sense of summit syndrome. Each time a dream of aspiration or goal came to pass, I’d shrug and look to what I’d next need to do. To feel successful. To feel worthy. To feel happy.


I imagined living another 5, 10, 20 years as I was. And was filled with horror.

Getting happy

I didn’t know what I wanted in life. But as Christie discusses in her post. I realised what I DID NOT WANT.

Even if we’re not sure what we want Christie suggests we start to notice. Everything. What we like and what we don’t. What feels good and what doesn’t.

“See, when you feel good, you are in alignment with your needs, your deepest longing, your soul. When you feel like crap, you aren’t.”

What came next is no secret. I made my seachange.

It’s been four years since I took the leap and there’s been a lot of soul searching since. But I’ve been happier than ever.

Success 2.0

Success in my new life is about being happy. Or at least contented. Or – at worst – NOT dissatisfied.

Brooke and Kelly suggested that IF we know the kind of life we want to live, we can refer back to it when making decisions. Like a touchstone.


Recently the perfect job popped up locally. It was the exact role I used to do in government. The money was okay. It would have been interesting and challenging. I felt like I SHOULD apply. Like I said, it was perfect. Fate. Kismet. Or similar.

Except… there was a gnawing feeling in my stomach. I didn’t want to work full-time. I wanted time to write. I didn’t want to ‘lose’ myself to someone else’s priorities any more. I didn’t want to do something solely because I felt I SHOULD. And because of how it would be perceived by others.

I sat down to do the application. And paused. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. I felt it in my heart and in my head. And then there was that gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach. So I ‘allowed’ myself to push it aside and get on with the life I’m enjoying.

I can’t promise I will never pursue that kind of life again, but instead I’m thinking more about what I really want. I may not entirely know what that is yet, but I certainly know what it is I DON’T want.

Do you believe success and happiness are linked? Have either been what you expected?

the-lovin-life-linkyI’ve joined Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit and some other bloggers to help promote “ageing positively” and the Lovin’ Life mindset across the interwebs. You can link up via any one of us!

The Lovin’ Life Team includes:
Kathy from 50 Shades of Age
Lyndall from Seize the Day Project
Johanna from Lifestyle Fifty
Min from Write of the Middle.
and Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit.

  • kathymarris
    November 17, 2016

    It is refreshing to hear that you have made some positive changes to your life in order to be happy. A lot of people stagnate and are too afraid to make changes for the better in their lives. So well done you! I’m not too sure if success and happiness are linked. I guess it depends on how you define success, whether it be a fabulous career earning a load of money or just leading a simple stress free life. It really depends on the person. I find I’m at my happiest now because I don’t have the stress of a full time job or demands of children at home. So simplifying my life and doing what I love doing (writing) made me happier.

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Yes, I probably went off on a bit of a tangent (and had to cull some of the post), but I definitely agree I see success very differently now!

  • Jan Wild
    November 17, 2016

    I think the problem with ‘success’ is that somehow we have defined it as ‘things’ rather than feelings. I do think success and happiness are linked but only when we first understand what makes us happy – when we find that we are successful in our own terms.

  • writeofthemiddle
    November 17, 2016

    Good on you for being brave enough NOT to apply for the job that you know is what you’re used to doing but is not what you want anymore. I’ve done the same thing. I am poor but I am happier. To me these days … success IS being happy and fulfilled. If you can achieve that then that is success to me. 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

  • Vanessa
    November 17, 2016

    I don’t think I have ever been a person who is “made” to work full time. Financially though, I need to. I’m still trying to work out how to get the balance of finding a job that keeps me interested – I’m not a career person per se but I get bored VERY easily at work – and one that lets me have time in my life.

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      I was the opposite Vanessa. I think it was hard for me to work part-time as I felt like it was a cop-out. I felt I SHOULD be more ambitious and SHOULD be climbing some ladder; achieving more; having more. Even now I often feel obliged to ‘explain’ my life choices (part-time work, low-ish level) although I know I shouldn’t have to!

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    November 17, 2016

    Love this Deb!

    What I love most about it (besides the fact it’s right up my alley and legacy creation is something I do with my clients) is that it’s a huge exercise in self awareness. Thanks for letting us take a peek inside your mind and letting us find out a bit more about you … at the same time that you’re finding out stuff about yourself. Perfect post!
    It’s sooooo good.

    I do think that success comes from a place of happiness (joy + belief + action + commitment = success), but that happiness doesn’t necessarily come from success. To be honest, I think the seed of true happiness and fulfillment is planted once we fully grasp the concept of gratitude. When we stop having to have what we want and start wanting what we already have.

    Thanks for the cuppa!

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Ha! You’re welcome. I told you it had gotten a bit long and unwieldy.

  • sizzlesue15
    November 17, 2016

    Great post Debbie and so true. Unfortunately we don’t realise what success can really mean until we are older. I love the quotes especially the one ‘your heart knows the way, follow in that direction’. Thanks!

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Oh yes, I love Christie’s quotes and memes on Facebook and often share them! She seems to find some great (and poignant) ones!

  • Trish MLDB
    November 17, 2016

    I love your attitude and resilience Deb. I have friends also childless not by choice and sometimes I feel their bitterness and the unfairness takes away from them discovering joy.

    After a cancer diagnosis (or three) I see success in simple terms – waking up each day , loving people and being loved.

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      I think I was like that for a while Trish and can still be so when people complain endlessly about their kids. (If only… I think!)

      I remember though having to stop and wonder what life was going to be all about if there wasn’t going to be a family and perhaps a partner…

      But yes, getting a wake up call (mine far to a lesser degree to yours) was kinda what I needed.

  • Denyse Whelan
    November 17, 2016

    So many insights! Loved reading this Deb. Thank you for sharing was can be revealing and sensitive parts of life. I like that you are listening to your heart more now even though the head wants to still tell you stuff. I’ve begun to be less focussed on what others might think or say and more in tune with my needs. I’ve left my run to understand me more a lot later than you but my excuse is I was “busy” on the achievement roller coaster. I look for contentment rather than happiness these days because the former is more of a state of peace within that suits me.

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Yes, even I wish I’d made some changes earlier in my life Denyse. I kept thinking there was still time. And mostly there is. My niece has had some decisions to make in recent times and it’s reminded me of some of the momentous decisions I’ve made – to work overseas as a volunteer, changing careers, jobs, countries, cities. I can’t change any of those things and not all have worked out how I would have liked, but they all brought me here.

      In reality it’s like that saying…. I don’t really regret any of those things, it’s the stuff I’ve NOT done that I regret.

  • Johanna
    November 17, 2016

    Loved all these insights and I was constantly nodding. I think as we get older we do think more about legacy and what really makes us happy, whereas when we’re younger we’re much more prone to peer pressure and the outward trappings of success as dictated by society. However, it takes a strong and motivated soul to step off the merrygoround and actively create a new life based on their new version of what happiness means to them. Look forward to reading more about how you live and love your sea change 🙂 #teamlovinlife

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Thanks Jo… I’ve been lucky to have this opportunity to do the seachange thing and reconsider my life. (Although having said that I had the opportunity because I worked hard for 20+yrs to earn an income, pay my mortgage and so forth!) It’s required a change in mindset to NOT pursue professional goals – worrying that I’m ‘settling’. And then wondering if that’s a bad thing anyway?

  • Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
    November 17, 2016

    Interesting post and I enjoyed seeing your thoughts on your journey so far. I was opposite of you I think in that when I was young I was very ambitious and really focused on my career and now I’m not. I do think the idea of what success is changes overtime and I’ve seen so many people who are unhappy not because they aren’t successful but because they can’t reevaluate their idea of what success is. Good for you listening to your inner voice about the job. It’s hard to pass up something that looks perfect on paper due to a feeling but it’s just about always the right choice!

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Yes Katherine. I was trying to find a post I wrote (fairly) recently about intuitive living / decision-making… gut instinct if you like, and how you often know deep down whether you’re making a decision which is consistent with your values and goals. I think for a long time the only path I could see was one that followed the usual path of career advancement and needing to earn more money and have more things. Now I’m telling myself I need ‘enough’ to pay the bills and my mortgage and remind myself NOT to compare myself to friends who are having o/s holidays and the like. And even if my work isn’t always really intellectually challenging, I’ve got my writing life and the headspace to be creative.

  • seizetheday20
    November 17, 2016

    You’ve certainly given me some points to ponder Deb. Have you seen the Wayne Dyer movie called The Shift: Ambition to Meaning? It discusses how, early in life, we are driven by ambition to achieve. Then, some time in midlife, there’s a shift and we start to focus on finding meaning in our life. It really resonated with me. You may enjoy it too 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      I haven’t heard of it Lyndall, I’ll look it up.

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    November 17, 2016

    So many things to think about here, Deb. I agree that as you live life through the good and the bad, you start to get a really good idea of what doesn’t make you happy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to focus on the happiness quotient of decisions I make over the other things. Working part time has been a change I’m surprised that I’ve adapted to so well.

    SSG xxx

    • Debbish
      November 17, 2016

      Ah yes… if it wasn’t for my overwhelming and constant sense of guilt I think I’d focus more on the things I’m passionate about and make me happy. Although it’s something I’m working on.

  • Emma
    November 17, 2016

    Your post really resonates with me at the moment. I am in a job that should tick all the boxes but doesn’t but I am not jumping ship because the question is where to? I don’t want more of the same that I’ve been doing for ten years that I know but what do I want? That’s the hard bit. I suppose it changes with age and circumstance and I admire that you have taken the plunge to be personally more happy and fulfilled. We only have one life and should make sure we live it well I think.

    • Debbish
      November 18, 2016

      I think it’s good you recognise you’re not entirely happy Emma. It means you might be more open to other (left-field) opportunities that may present themselves. For me, getting the redundancy really allowed me to financially make the seachange. I’m too risk averse to do that sort of thing normally. However… since making the seachange, that’s something that is improving.

  • Janet Camilleri (@middleagedmama1)
    November 18, 2016

    Love your thoughts on success here Deb. It’s a topic I’ve thought about a lot over the years, and have come to realise that most people measure success by comparing (themselves) with others.

    Instead, I believe true success is more about what’s inside you – what you are doing with what you have been given (gifts, talents, resources), doing what you love (hopefully in a way that benefits others).

    • Debbish
      November 19, 2016

      Oh yes, I like that idea Janet… a bit like only comparing yourself to the person you were (yesterday etc). A very big problem of mine!

  • yinyangmother
    November 19, 2016

    This is a great post – and I’m off to read Christie’s too. I’m really pleased for you that you paused and thought better of applying for the full time role. It really does sound like you are getting comfortable with your own internal view of success and are happy as a result. I have a way to go on that journey, and like you it is the past self I also compare my current self too.

    • Debbish
      November 19, 2016

      Yes… I think I’m AS HAPPY about the realisation as anything Kathy!

I'd love to hear your thoughts