Look at your current successes — I don’t make a lot of money with my business yet, as it’s still growing. I don’t have a second home or take lavish vacations. All those things would be great, but instead of feeling like a failure for what I don’t have yet, I think about all the things I have accomplished. My three college degrees, awards, my son, my marriage, my friendships, my book, my teaching career, learning how to manage my thoughts and emotions better, my eating disorder recovery. I have so much I’ve done and overcome, and I can feel like a success today, even if I never acquire anything else.

Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.

As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alana Van Der Sluys.

Alana Van Der Sluys is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor in training, an eating disorder survivor, and the founder of Freedom with Food and Fitness, an online community dedicated to empowering women to heal their relationship with food, weight, and their bodies through intuitive eating, fitness, and mindset coaching. She is also an award-winning, full-time English and journalism teacher in New Jersey. A lover of whisky and travel, Alana lives with her husband Scott; her son, Archer; and her fur baby, Captain Oats.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

The experience that most shaped who I am today both as a person and a “side hustle mompreneur” was my struggle with three eating disorders: orthorexia, binge eating disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder. They stole over seven years of my life, but through that experience, I really learned who I was as a person: my motivations, strengths, and insecurities. It also fueled my passion to become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and create my business, Freedom with Food and Fitness, so I can help women heal from similar struggles with body, weight, and food.

The other experience that shaped me was rather a series of “micro-experiences” related to external validation. As a child, I was always praised for external things: accomplishments, appearance, awards, grades, etc.. While well-meaning by those who praised me, I turned this praise into something to be sought at all costs. My natural inclination to be high achieving has a shadow-side in the form of self-prescribed perfectionism. I harmed myself mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to appear perfect, please others, and be “the good girl.” Through mindset and thought coaching, I’ve learned that being messy, awkward, imperfect, and a failure are good things! They move you forward in this experiment we call life.

We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?

I used to believe success was doing the most things. I used to wholly subscribe to hustle culture. I was always very go-go-go, do-do-do. While I’ve known for a very long time that, objectively, she who does the most by the end of her life doesn’t “win,” I’ve only recently really been applying this to my own life and realizing that not everything on my to-do list is urgent. I have a tendency to forget that 90% of my agenda day-to-day is really optional. They’re all wonderful and productive things, but not things to put undue pressure on myself to accomplish. If I remember that life is an option, and I choose what to do, think and feel, the pressure dissipates.

How has your definition of success changed?

Success is, at the end of your life, saying, “Gosh, that was fun! I wish I could do it again!” It’s having a life that’s meaningful to you. It’s staying authentic to who you are, no matter what you do. It’s laughing, loving, and being happy in the present moment. Things like beauty and wealth are not happiness. Accepting who you are, exactly as you are today–without any of those external things–is true success.

The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?

We need a sense of compassion. We are so divided and in such an explosive way. We are so entrenched with what “our side” believes that it makes us blind to the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others. We’ve lost the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We’ve adopted what I believe to be a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality, when life is so much more gray than that.

We’ve also forgotten that we cannot change what others think, feel, or do. We take what others do so personally, and we make it mean so much, but that’s wasted energy. We can only control what we choose to believe, think, and do. And it would better serve us to concentrate on whether we are showing up as our best selves, instead of how others are showing up.

What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.

Some of the best things in my life came out of the pandemic. First and foremost, I gave birth to my son, Archer. Speaking of success, so long as he is happy and healthy, I have succeeded in life. He is my biggest priority, and he’s not even a to-do list item!

I also wrote my first book, which has, at the time of this article, been unofficially picked up by an international publisher. Freedom with Food and Fitness: A Guide to Quitting Diets, Enjoying Exercise, and Becoming Your Healthiest, Most Confident Self as an Intuitive Eater will tentatively be released at the end of this year. I also started my business, Freedom with Food and Fitness, during the pandemic!

It was a time of social isolation, for sure, which was further exacerbated by new motherhood and trying to protect my child from COVID. But again, life is a choice. I can choose to see the bad or choose to see the good. I choose the latter.

We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”

  1. Separate your version of success from other people’s version — This is your life, and as a result, you need to define success for yourself. I would not consider myself a success if I made a million dollars in my business this year, but sacrificed being present with my family most of the time or sacrificed my mental health. Success for me would be helping others, even just one person, while working on bettering my relationship with myself. If the business takes off, that would be wonderful, but I wouldn’t consider it a success if it came at the expense of what really matters to me in this life.
  2. Look at your current successes — I don’t make a lot of money with my business yet, as it’s still growing. I don’t have a second home or take lavish vacations. All those things would be great, but instead of feeling like a failure for what I don’t have yet, I think about all the things I have accomplished. My three college degrees, awards, my son, my marriage, my friendships, my book, my teaching career, learning how to manage my thoughts and emotions better, my eating disorder recovery. I have so much I’ve done and overcome, and I can feel like a success today, even if I never acquire anything else.
  3. Realize success will not bring happiness in its truest form — You will never be happy when you are “successful” if you’re not happy right now. A six-figure business, fancy material things, a great body…none of it will make you happy because they’re all moving targets. If you hang your success and happiness on those things, there will always be more money to make, more things to buy, more pounds to lose before you allow yourself to feel like you’ve “made it.” Decide you’ve already made it, and then keep pushing to improve and grow.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others — Take it from someone who always wanted to be the best: there will always be someone more successful, thinner, prettier, handsomer, wealthier, more popular, than you. That’s their journey, and you’re on yours. Stop using others as a measuring stick. You also have no idea what their life is really like, what their thoughts are about themselves, and how much help they’ve had along the way. You can use other people’s ideas and successes as inspiration for your own, but don’t let it be something that you use to beat yourself up with or use as confirmation that you’re “less than.”
  5. Embrace failure — It took 87 rejections for my first book before I was offered a deal. It took more to get a literary agent. It’s impossible to do everything you try perfectly. The failures are learning experiences, so embrace each and every one of them as such. If you’re not failing, and failing often, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not taking enough risks.

How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?

It would become less elusive if we just decided to consider ourselves successful today. Otherwise, if it’s this “in the distance” marker, it becomes a moving target that we never hit. What we’re really chasing when we’re chasing success are things like safety, acceptance, love, and validation: what I refer to as SALV in my business. We chase success for the same reasons we chase weight loss; we want the bigger, abstract concepts that we think those things represent. The key, though, is learning to love ourselves now, validate ourselves now, be happy now, BEFORE the success; and we will be successful.

What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?

Society’s external messaging and expectations get in our way. Day in and day out we are told what success looks like, how we should get it, what it means about us if we’re not achieving it in the way we’re told we should. That’s where a lot of shame and guilt reside. We take those external messages, and, with their repetition, create neural pathways that, over time, begin to feel like fact. Who says a thin body is success? Who says wealth is success? Really take the time to evaluate what these pillars of “success” mean to you, and if you really need them to be successful.

Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?

I love to read memoirs of successful people. I like to look at their genesis stories and their failures. And I’m not just talking about famous and wealthy people either! I like to read about everyday people, hear their stories.

I also have clients who buy bread for the first time in years and eat it without guilt or bingeing. That is success. That is coming home to yourself.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet Michelle Obama. I thought she was such an approachable and personable First Lady. Her memoir, Becoming, blew me away in terms of her story, her fears,, her tenacity, and her vulnerability. She is a success story for women everywhere, particularly those who are still marginalized, and I just feel like she and I could totally throw back some mimosas and plot ways to strengthen the power of women in this world!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am on Instagram @FreedomwithFoodandFitness and at www.freedomwithfoodandfitness.com.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.