Stop forcing. Let go of push and pull. Instead, please pay attention to your intuition and inner voice and follow its guidance with determination and action.
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 Alison Cameron.
Alison is an internationally acclaimed leadership guide. A pragmatic visionary, Alison has worked with the world’s most prominent leaders and businesses to help them rethink and redesign their strategy, transformation, culture, and innovation approach. Her work has helped evolve cultures, create new sustainable products, and disrupt mindsets and industries. Alison is the author of Leadership for the New Millennium and educator and guide at New Millennium Leader — The Academy.
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?
When I was 13 years old, existential questioning resulted in me being institutionalised with a mental illness. A nurse recognised that I was not mentally ill but a compassionate human searching for meaning. He gave me reading materials on meditation and holistic healing techniques and suggested that I was experiencing a spiritual emergence. I started experimenting with the methods outlined in the books and became increasingly intrigued by the mind, body, and soul connection. That was the beginning of my conscious journey exploring the subjective or invisible realm of existence and living with a clear sense of purpose.
In my late teens and early 20s, I was a leader in movements to create a more peaceful and just world. As a “young leader”, I was a speaker and delegate at a range of global conferences alongside well-known spiritual, political, business, science and social change leaders, royalty, and entertainers. I then went on to work in the not-for-profit and NGO space on issues such as modern forms of slavery and social and environmental justice. I became aware of the systemic violence underlying and reinforcing these challenges during this time. I became interested in how systems give rise to and perpetuate inhumane and destructive ways of living. I particularly became curious about the economic systems humans have created and the behaviour these systems drive. This led to my re-engagement in the business world, mainly working with large complex global organisations and exploring how their transformation might impact the broader systems they are connected to.
My experience working with renowned leaders revealed the light and the shade of leading at this level. It unveiled levels of ego-driven hypocrisy and corruption as well as “good” work done and how these often co-existed.
Looking back over 20 years later, I can see how these experiences led to a fierce commitment to living soulfully, without seeking traditional success, public attention, fame, or fortune for its own sake. I became aware of the traps of name and fame and determined to prioritise self-integrity above traditional notions of achievement or success.
While ironically, I am likely considered successful by commonly used metrics, any financial or worldly success has been a side-effect of following my purpose rather than something I have pursued in and of itself.
People close to me often comment on my courage as they observe my pattern of making decisions that place soulful intentions over greater “worldly” success. It has never felt like courage to me — simply the obvious choice, given my decision to prioritise self-integrity and living from my soul over anything else.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
I have come to terms with being unable to save people (particularly those close to me) from destructive choices and patterns. Earlier in life, I had equated success with being able to help and uplift those I connected to. Moving beyond this was a vital understanding early in my work as a guide for others. From a professional standpoint, this learning was graceful. The area of the most challenge has been in close personal relationships. At times, it has been painful and personally devastating to be unable to “save” those I love the most. I have had to learn the value of tough love in some very challenging personal situations — and to be patient and compassionate in respecting the learning process of others.
How has your definition of success changed?
From an early age, my definition of success was different to that of the mainstream. Materialism did not interest me; I was keen on exploring and evolving consciousness. Success meant living with integrity and compassion, and as a result, I sometimes took too much responsibility for others. I have learnt to balance this better in my relationships over time. An essential part of this process has been learning to embrace and accept more aspects of myself, the light and the shade, and in doing this have developed more power to channel them constructively.
In our society, many people do not accept and integrate the more impulsive, instinctive, or reactive aspects of themselves, and these aspects then go “underground” and become unconscious. When we do this, we create a gap between our intentions and our actions.
In my experience, if there is a battle or incongruence between conscious and subconscious (and even unconscious) desires and intentions, the subconscious or unconscious will eventually win, therefore, finding a way to accept and constructively work with the power of our subconscious and unconscious mind is critical in doing less damage to ourselves and those around us.
As Carl Jung famously said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.”
As I have deepened my understanding of personal evolution as a natural process, I have liberated myself from the notion of success as anything beyond being my true self.
While at some point in my earlier life, I may have understood the pursuit of personal evolution and social impact as goals to achieve, I now realise that evolution and impact are natural when I am living from my truth. In the same way that the body, when free of disease, will heal a cut or recover from a cold without too much effort on our part — when we let ourselves be ourselves, our growth and impact occur naturally and spontaneously.
The challenge is that much of our conditioning opposes this kind of growth. Therefore, a healthy discipline of self-reflection is essential to continue to liberate ourselves from impediments to our natural expression and personal evolution.
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?
In my opinion, the last years have highlighted and amplified issues that were present pre-covid.
While I know several people who have made positive, conscious choices due to increased self-reflection over the last years, collectively, we have yet to progress far beyond reflection into action. We have not sufficiently reckoned with the impact of the various policies put in place during the pandemic. We have not taken action to address the disparities in cities and towns, let alone across the world, that have become more evident than ever. We have not yet used the disruption to create a more just and compassionate world. There is still time to do this, yet it would take deliberate effort and willingness to sacrifice the ego — to learn from various perspectives and move from polarisation towards synthesis.
To begin this process, we must learn to move beyond fear and limited, contracted thinking into more compassionate, expansive thinking.
Human beings do not tend to make healthy long-term decisions from fear. While fear can help us when confronted with a life-threatening situation, if it becomes consistently experienced, it can wreak havoc with our human superpowers, such as compassion and creativity. The media and government response in countries such as Australia appeared designed to create fear and keep people in a fight-flight-freeze response rather than supporting people to access the creative, problem-solving parts of their consciousness. While fear-based messaging might help get more “clicks” on media websites and may, in some cases, prevent loss of life in the short term, we can see the long-term impact of constant fear-based messaging and rules across a range of metrics, including but not limited to the increase in anxiety and depression over the time of the pandemic response.
Human beings can access intelligence to think for themselves and hold a more nuanced, systemic worldview. Yet, with education and social systems designed to reward conformity rather than originality, many grown adults, including world leaders, still need to develop the kind of self-awareness and the complex and mature thinking required to make healthy decisions.
Success for society post-pandemic would involve helping all human beings to develop better ways of thinking and decision-making. To see the world as it truly is — connected and interwoven. When world leaders behave like spoilt children or criminal gang lords, it is time for a new kind of leadership. Rather than delegating responsibility for our world to these so-called “leaders”, all human beings can take responsibility for creating a better world right now and for future generations.
This takes work to unpack our beliefs, assumptions, and world views, understand where they have arisen from, and evaluate which world views would lead to better decision-making. It requires a different level of responsibility-taking and understanding of who we are in the broader interconnected cosmos.
An evident shift we need to make collectively is to move from greed to need. Success measured through the accumulation of wealth needs to be re-evaluated. Greed knows how to exploit crisis; unfortunately, wealth disparity increased during the pandemic response. We need to hold people to account who achieve their version of success through the suffering of others. Whether through war, the military-industrial complex, the pandemic, or day-to-day business operations, we need to transform or even dismantle the political, economic, and social systems that allow this.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
Companies concerned about people working from home realised that most human beings could be trusted to fulfil their work responsibilities without undue management oversight. While it may be disappointing that it took a pandemic to bring to life this common-sense understanding, there are several positive flow-on effects. The move to have more people work from home or hybrid working has significantly and permanently altered people’s understanding of themselves and others — and opened the potential for more dynamic, enjoyable work.
Several of my client’s organisations experienced this as a liberation in mindset and culture. We are yet to see how many leaders and organisations will take this realisation to the next level and do the work required to create environments where people can consistently enact agency in expressing their purpose at work.
By this stage, people also recognise the limitations of living and working primarily online and the benefit and joy of coming together physically for certain types of collaborative work.
A crisis can be an opportunity collectively and individually. I know several people who resigned from unfulfilling jobs to start businesses or explore areas of passion during the pandemic response. I have heard stories of families who became closer due to spending more time together and stories of unhealthy relationship dynamics full of confrontation. For many, it forced a mirror on relationships, choices, and ways of living. Some chose to find distractions from this (alcohol, Netflix, workaholism etc.), and others used the mirror to make a positive change.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
From my perspective, the following shifts can create a more fulfilling experience of success:
- From an external to an internal definition of success.
The first step in redefining success is defining success for yourself. To go deep with this, you’ll need to look at your first answers and evaluate them. Which aspects of your answers arise from conditioning you have absorbed from your upbringing and society? Which aspects arise from a deeply internalised sense of who you are and what is important to you? If you are like most people, you’ll realise that even to begin to define success for yourself, you’ll need to go through a process of unlearning and self-discovery. Redefining success can be a lifelong process, so revisit this regularly.
2. From individual to collective and connected success.
Many of our challenges as individuals and as humanity come from seeing ourselves as separate. Our definition and experience of success impact not only who we are but everything we are connected to. And we are connected to EVERYTHING. To be successful in a way that amplifies the success of all beings now and into the future changes the game in ways that will delight you. It moves you beyond yourself beautifully, opening unexpected synchronicities, ideas, and opportunities.
3. From habitual to ritualised living.
The difference between habit and ritual is presence.
Over time, habituated living can create a sense of sleepwalking through life — of going through the motions.
Bring presence to every moment. When you are doing the laundry, speaking with a client, making a coffee, or engaging with your children, change things up when you can. Walk or drive a different route. Connect with someone new. Turn off the television and pick up a book. Amplify joy — dance in the lounge room. Explore new learning. Ritualise living.
Habit deadens the mind, and ritual enlivens it.
4. From hustle culture to an effortless effort.
Stop forcing. Let go of push and pull. Instead, please pay attention to your intuition and inner voice and follow its guidance with determination and action.
Hustle culture is old news. Success beyond success is not achieved through a lack of effort or a force of will. It comes when we let go of the pressure to be anyone or anything other than who we are. The work is to be that in its most positive expression — and keep amplifying the potential of self. Lean into moving beyond your limitations and fears with courage. Regardless of your thoughts or feelings — act as your higher self.
Transforming our metrics for measuring success can help with this. Rather than using traditional performance indicators, evaluate success by the consistency of desired feelings or aspirational qualities of being you embody. You might also ask yourself some questions you can answer daily, such as: Am I taking consistent action towards a higher purpose? How often did I listen to my inner guidance today? How did I care for my physical body today? Questions aligned with your version of success can support you in paying attention to what is most important to you. Where attention goes, energy flows.
5. From physical symbols to soulful experiences.
We have been fed physical success symbols from an early age (the car we drive/the house we live in/the degrees we accumulate). While there is nothing wrong with these, it is essential not to be overly motivated by them and to place a greater emphasis on the whole person we are becoming.
Great liberation is possible as we de-tangle from relentless consumerism and its false promises. It is pure joy to allow the fulfilment of your needs from a state of inner abundance and gratitude for what you already have, not greed and lack. Gratitude and generosity go hand in hand. When we appreciate what already exists, we find ways to share it. This can be gratitude for the love we have in life, the inner happiness we have found or even the material blessings of our lives. Even for one simple moment enjoying the rain and sunshine or appreciating nature.
I have worked with the poorest of the poor as well as billionaires. I had personally experienced times when I was living day to day and times of great material prosperity. A state of abundance can be experienced regardless of material wealth, as can a state of lack — our internal orientation matters. I have known people whose greed and lack increased with material gain and others whose generosity and abundance grew alongside it. No one on this earth should have to struggle or live in survival. Excessive wealth needs to be shared. Wealth accumulation that causes suffering for others (including future generations) should be curtailed entirely!
To place value on a soulful experience of life rather than material symbols, cultivate generosity and gratitude. Find ways to explore and nourish your inner world daily (nature, meditation, music, art). Enjoy life through your senses but don’t be controlled by them. Notice compulsive behaviour and replace it with soulful nourishment.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
This is a question I would prefer each reader to reflect on and answer for themselves. Firstly, I need to find out what your definition of success is. Secondly, it is more meaningful to arrive at insight for yourself rather than have someone else hypothesize for you.
It is a fundamental question because the answers (when reached through honest self-reflection) may create a catalytic change in your life.
Take some time now, with pen and paper and place this question at the top of the paper. Reflect on how you might transform your definition of success and what life improvements this might bring. Also, consider the ripple effect on the people and systems you connect to.
I have worked with many people on redefining success over the years. The common improvements they have experienced are enhanced happiness, health and well-being, a more profound sense of congruence and integrity, greater financial abundance (without hustling or being inauthentic), deeper and more enriching relationships and a stronger sense of purpose and connection with the broader world.
I experience profound freedom in not being constrained by the need to do or be anything other than myself. I have gratitude that I can be in the world but not of it. I focus on doing everything I do to the best of my ability without being too attached to the outcome. Every day I practice and appreciate the simple joys of a still mind and an open heart.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
Fear. Most of us are aware of how unhealthy our society’s definition of success has become during late capitalism and the toll it is taking on our individual and collective well-being. Yet, we are afraid of stepping off the hamster wheel. Fear is the root and the fruit of comparison and competition. We fear not being enough, not having a place, and not winning. Fear creates a feeling of contraction and limits our thinking and choices.
We are worried about the consequences of self-reflection and making choices from a more soulful place. Will we be accepted? What will others say? We are afraid of loss. Loss of relationships, approval, money, stability, and identity.
To support you in overcoming fear:
- Adopt a regular reflective practice. Notice fear when it arises and examine what is driving the anxiety. Explore how true your beliefs about what you might lose are really. Critically examine the political, social, economic, cultural, and educational structures that cause you to believe what you do. Decolonise your mind.
- Encourage yourself. Spend time with courageous, open-minded, loving humans. Adopt positive, encouraging self-talk. Celebrate each step forward. Learn to move into the heart and experience the expansion of living from courage, compassion, and love.
- Take small steps forward. You don’t need to change everything all at once. Consider — what is a small, safe experiment you could run that would help you to move forward with living your new definition of success? It could be as simple as fasting from buying clothes for a month, studying something new, volunteering, or turning your emails off on the weekend.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
- I go inside myself. Meditative practice keeps me safe from unhealthy notions of success. In my experience, there is no substitute for self-knowledge.
- I go into nature. I swim in oceans and waterfalls regularly. I walk in the forest. I watch the sunrise and sunset. I notice my connection to everything. I am no better or worse — just part of creation. I am humbled. I am loved.
- I go and experience different ways of knowing. I listen to others. I seek out differences. I learn a lot from indigenous wisdom in redefining success. I spend time with elders and younger ones.
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 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.
Russell Brand. It would be a dynamic and mutually inspiring conversation.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can learn more about my work through my website and Linkedin. I occasionally post on Instagram and Twitter, and you’ll find a more profound guide for redefining success by reading my book, Leadership for the New Millennium.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.