“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” – David Orr

The above quote could not have appeared at a better time in my Facebook stream. I’ve been in desperate need of a success reboot.

Today marks the second anniversary of my self-employment. Unfortunately, leading up to this date, my brain was playing the “I am a dismal failure as an entrepreneur” tape on perma-loop.

If you measure my last two years by any success-meter that the corporate world would value, here’s what it looks like:

  • Last year, I made only a third of what I was making in the non-profit management position I walked away from to become self-employed.
  • This year is shaping up to be only slightly better financially.
  • Most of the major consulting contracts I’ve negotiated have either fallen apart altogether or been cut in half part way through the project.
  • Several of the classes I’ve offered online or in person have had only 5 or so people sign up.
  • I had to cancel one of my classes when only one person registered.
  • I have burned through a lot more of my retirement savings than I’d intended to.
  • I still can’t afford the reno project we’ve been dreaming of for half a dozen years.
  • I’m giving up one of the courses I teach regularly at the university because it’s become painfully clear that my skills don’t suit the expectations for this class.
  • I have very little work lined up for the next few months.
  • My writing submissions have been rejected more often than accepted.
  • I’ve been scouring the want ads lately for jobs that might take less of my energy than this relentless self-promotion requires.

It’s not hard to see where the discouragement comes from. This self-employment thing is all kinds of HARD and I haven’t figured out how to make it lucrative. It’s tempting to accompany that loop tape with other failure stories like “I’m not cut out for this”, and “all those other people who make this look easy are smarter than me.”

HOWEVER… the story doesn’t end there. When I work with clients, I use a narrative coaching style in which we work on replacing old worn-out stories with new ones. When I change the definition of success, for example, the picture looks a whole lot different.

  • I have developed an incredible network of people from all over the world. I’ve had (and continue to have) meaningful conversations with many of them.
  • I’ve done one-on-one coaching with more than 2 dozen people and I’ve had the pleasure of watching almost every one of them have an a-ha moment when they re-wrote the stories that were holding them back.
  • Even when only 5 people completed my last Creative Discovery class, every one of them reported that the experience changed them.
  • I’ve received hundreds (maybe even thousands) of emails and comments from people who’ve been deeply impacted by my writing.
  • In each of the eleven university classes I’ve taught, there have been at least a few students who have connected with me in a deep way. I still get lovely emails from some of them, including one today that said “you continue to inspire me”.
  • One of my coaching clients was so transformed by our work together that she gifted me with registration and lodging at my favourite annual authentic leadership gathering.
  • I’ve had the opportunity to teach workshops and classes in all of the subject areas that I dreamed of teaching when I started this journey – leadership, creativity, community, storytelling, and writing.
  • I co-hosted an international women’s gathering and have had the pleasure of hosting several other women’s circles.
  • I’ve written a book that gets better with each edit and I’m committed to publishing it some day.
  • I’ve created multiple offerings that have reached people who said they were exactly what they needed at that time.
  • Together with my beloved, I’ve done some deep and soulful work on my marriage and managed to save it from the brink of disaster.
  • I have been more present for my children than I was when I was employed full time.
  • I have been able to spend extra time with my mom these past few weeks.
  • I have done some deep personal exploration and grown in ways I never anticipated.

No, I’m not financially successful and there’s a good chance I never will be, but, on this, my second anniversary of self-employment, I can hold my head high and call myself a “peacemaker, healer, restorer, storyteller, and lover.” That’s worth a whole lot more than a few dollars in my bank account, or even the shiny new kitchen I dream of having some day.

How do you define success?

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