Know your values. Do some introspection to come up with your core values. For example, if your core value is honesty, think about how this aligns with your work or your friends. Does something need to change? What if your core value is faith, but you haven’t found the time for religious study or prayer? Maybe your core value is humility, but you’ve realized some of your friends don’t quite align with your views. If you can ensure that your top values are being supported in all core areas of your life, you’ll feel more like your true self and closer to feeling like you’re living a successful life.
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 Andrea Dyson.
Andrea was born in Ecuador and came to the US with her family when she was young. She’s had a successful career on Wall Street, where she’s worked for the last 14 years. Since 2019, Andrea has had to face chronic health issues that became her catalyst to redefining success and changing her life. She lives in New York with her husband and rescue dog. She’s currently focused on healing and looking at life through a new lens. She enjoys connecting with friends and family, traveling, books/podcasts on personal growth and wellness, journaling, biking, hiking and meditating.
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?
I was born in Ecuador but grew up in the U.S. until I was 7 years old. Then my family moved back to Ecuador, where I lived for 10 years prior to graduating high school. Upon graduation, after having been accepted to a local university, I suddenly felt the urge to pursue college in the U.S. — although I hadn’t realized what a journey that would be. My parents had gotten divorced and my mom decided to travel with me to the U.S., leaving behind my older brother. She took a job as a nanny to provide us with a place to live and give me as much as she could in financial help towards college. I took a year off to navigate the U.S. college application process. I studied for the SAT’s on my own at the local library and took an hour-long bus to the testing center. I remember breaking down crying one day because the thought of writing college applications had overwhelmed me and the thought of being accepted anywhere felt so far-fetched. At that point, my dad came over to help me through it and to take me on a roadtrip to visit campuses. Although it was really tough, I ultimately was accepted to a couple of places, including Georgetown University, where I decided to enroll. I couldn’t have done it without my mom’s hard work and emotional support, as well as my dad’s help. This taught me first and foremost the importance of family support. The process also gave me a good dose of humility and gratitude.
After college, I landed a job on Wall Street, where I quickly began to dedicate all of my time and energy. For anyone looking in from the outside, I had a “successful” and fast-tracked career with promotions and big titles. I thought so too, although I was also pretty consistently tired — actually, exhausted. I remember looking through texts with my husband and finding I would text him daily, almost without fail: “I’m so tired.” I’d also return home fuming when I had stayed late at work. I usually wasn’t being asked to stay late, but I wanted to finish something sooner or thought I needed to work on something to get it perfect. The point is, there were signs my life wasn’t balanced, and I ignored them. Then I began experiencing some chronic health issues. At first, I couldn’t sleep through the night any more and I began to feel extreme fatigue, which really impaired my mood and my energy. I had other scary and weird symptoms too, like heart palpitations, ringing in my ears, brassy hair, numbness, depression, and muscle pains. But, I ignored my body and kept racing at full speed at work. Eventually, I crashed. My manager thankfully asked me to take a few weeks off to recover — only, at this point, the damage was too big to turn the situation around in a few weeks. I had run myself into the ground. I had been sprinting after something (I still don’t know what), until my body slammed the brakes. They say the body keeps the score and forces you to take notice, when you ignore it for too long. Being unwell began a transformation of rediscovery for me, at a deep level. I had lost touch with my values and had neglected many areas of my life in exchange for professional accomplishments. I neglected friendships, family, fun, and self-care for many years. I didn’t give my mind time to breathe, and, instead, thought of work ALL the time. I am still healing from chronic fatigue and back pain, but I now see this experience as the biggest teaching moment of my life. This is shaping me in incredible new ways and I’m thankful for my body forcing me to take inventory of my life. I’m reconnecting with my authentic self and learning to listen to my gut feelings; I’m focusing more time on introspection and self-care; I’m cultivating relationships that I had neglected for years; I’m more present; I’m pursuing activities that bring me joy; and I’m learning to live a calmer and slower-paced life.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
I used to think that success meant gaining recognition from others. This manifested as always doing what was asked of me and seeking constant validation. If I was pleasing my manager or my team, then I thought I was being successful. If I received a compliment for my hard work, I felt validated. I chased more responsibilities, more titles and more promotions — but I didn’t know why. All that seemed to matter to me was to gain everyone’s approval. I let my job and my title define me to my friends and family. I was sprinting on the fast lane and thought that would bring me sustained happiness, but it didn’t.
How has your definition of success changed?
After my health issues came up, I was forced to reconsider my definition of success because I no longer had the energy to please others (at all). I realized that seeking everyone else’s approval was a) not sustainable and b) severely impacting my health. I started looking inward and questioning my beliefs. With time, I realized that success isn’t something others can give you, but rather something you give yourself.
I now believe the key to a fulfilling life is to live true to yourself and find balance in all areas of your life. For example, work is an important and big part of our lives, so it’s okay to want to seek professional accomplishments, but not at the expense of other areas in your life like: relationships, health, fun, and spirituality. Each of these areas deserve attention and time because they complete you as a person. Being true to what makes you happy in each of these areas is critical. For example, one of my biggest values is strong family connections and friendships, but I had been so obsessed with work that it consumed all my energy and left none for my family or friends. I didn’t prioritize going to visit my brother, my mom, or my extended family, whom I was close to growing up. I didn’t have enough energy for outings with my friends and ultimately lost touch with friends that were near and dear to me. I lost valuable time that can’t be recovered. Even when I was able to be with my family or friends, I wasn’t fully present. My mind was often distracted with a million thoughts about work. I’m currently working on re-establishing strong family ties and friendships. I find so much joy in being part of their lives and having them in mine.
In other words, I now deeply believe success is living your life in a way that is most authentic to your true self, so you can shine for those around you.
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?
The pandemic was like the universe pressing the “slow down” button. When you’re in the fast lane, you don’t often have time to go up for air and re-assess. Being at home forces us to take a look at our lives; at who we are with our partners when we see them all day; at who we are as parents, sons, and daughters; at who we are with ourselves when we’re in the comfort of our own home.
As a society, I believe we need to start supporting each others’ personal development as complex, whole beings, not only as employees. What does that mean? That means really getting to know each other and connecting on what makes us each individually happy and what our values are. These will be different for everyone, but I think the point is to try to understand our individuality and share it with others. In our society, one of the most frequently asked questions are: “what do you do?,” if it’s someone you’ve just met, and “how’s work?,” if it’s someone you know. This forces us all to identify ourselves too closely with what we do as a profession. To label ourselves based solely on our jobs; to believe that’s the most important part of who we are as individuals. Maybe as a society we can shift that collective definition. We can focus on discussing what we do for fun; we can talk about the last family gathering we had; we can talk about our values.
I believe that our society, particularly near our largest cities, is centered too much around productivity and a fast-pace. It’s formidable that our collective work ethic is so strong, but as human beings, we weren’t built to manage that much constant thinking or stress. Our brains need a break throughout the day, so does our nervous system. We need to recharge and introduce calmer moments into our daily routines. The pandemic really helped us do this each in our own way, but it’s something we need to continue to incorporate into our lives as the pandemic eases.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
Time for introspection and re-evaluation. I think everyone had just a bit more time to themselves to think about their current lives and their future goals. This is a positive thing. When you’re lost in a hectic daily routine, it’s easy not to use your free time for self-reflection. I think it’s so positive that people got a chance to slow things down and to spend more time with themselves, uninterrupted by the frantic external world.
The importance of human connection. Everyone felt the heaviness of isolation. I don’t think any one of us didn’t at some point feel longing for in-person human interaction (not just virtual videos). Even if you were lucky to have family members or roommates living with you, there’s this energy you get from larger groups of people that I think we all felt was missing. I believe we all appreciate this so much more now.
Flexibility to work remotely is obviously a hugely transformative change. Prior to COVID, you would feel so guilty for working from home even just 1 day a year, if you got stuck at home because of a snow storm or some other extreme scenario. I think our society needed help balancing its strong work ethic with some pleasure and enjoyment — even the simple pleasure of working in your sweatpants is enough to motivate people. Getting to see more of your children or enjoying breakfast, lunch or dinner with your partner are things so essential to making us happy and well-balanced human beings.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
- Assess the core areas of your life: work, relationships, health, fun, spirituality. Take an honest inventory on how you feel you’re doing in each area and see which of them need some further attention. It’s helpful to assess each on a 1–10 scale. This is not a one-time assessment, nor should you strive to have them all perfectly in balance at all times. It’s okay to focus on one or a couple of these when we have to, but the key is to acknowledge the others when we get the chance and keep rotating our focus and energy on all of them. For example, if you’re happy with your work, feel valued, and have several work accomplishments, that area would be 10/10. If on the other hand, you don’t really have a passion for your industry, but still have meaningful accomplishments or amazing colleagues, maybe that’s a 7/10. Go with your gut feeling on this, and make some notes as to why you rated the way you did.
- Prioritize what needs to be prioritized. Once you’ve taken stock, figure out what needs prioritizing. For instance, if you’ve been having lots of fun, but have neglected your health along the way, then it’s time to focus on prioritizing your health, at least for a period of time. Look at how you can support yourself here. Maybe instead of dining out or ordering in every night, you can invite friends over to your house for a home-made dinner instead. Maybe instead of going out drinking every weekend, you can skip one and spend it on self-care. If, on the contrary, you’ve been overly focused on a health issue, maybe it’s time to change gears for a while and focus on having some fun. It’s all about finding balance.
- Know your values. Do some introspection to come up with your core values. For example, if your core value is honesty, think about how this aligns with your work or your friends. Does something need to change? What if your core value is faith, but you haven’t found the time for religious study or prayer? Maybe your core value is humility, but you’ve realized some of your friends don’t quite align with your views. If you can ensure that your top values are being supported in all core areas of your life, you’ll feel more like your true self and closer to feeling like you’re living a successful life.
- Do things that bring you joy. In all areas of life, you should find a spark of joy. It doesn’t need to be constant and it’s not the same as having fun. For instance, you may be someone who enjoys solving problems. If your job is full of routine tasks, you may not have an opportunity to feel that spark because you’re not given the chance to use your thinking hat. This is something that you can address. If you have a health issue you want to prioritize healing and your friends’ idea of having fun always entails drinking, maybe that hasn’t been bringing you joy lately. Maybe going for a hike would bring a spark of joy, even if it’s hard work to get into. The key is to know who you are and what you need, and ensure it aligns with what you’re doing. Once again, this is a fluid process and needs constant reassessment throughout your life.
- Help others. All the items above are focused on ourselves and I do believe they’re important first steps to take, because you want to ensure you’re in alignment with your true self so that you can bring your best self forward when focusing on others. But I will say, there’s truly nothing better than the feeling of helping someone else. This doesn’t mean you should quit your job and go work at a non-profit. It doesn’t even mean you have to do formal volunteering. You can help others with whom you interact on a daily basis. For instance, you can help your gardener have a better day by offering him a drink or a snack next time you see him; you can help someone on your team or a colleague by asking them how they’re doing health-wise and sharing some self-care tips; you can help your boss by telling them you believe in their vision and support them; you can help your spouse by doing a small task at home that’s normally their responsibility. If you can incorporate little acts of kindness into your everyday life, then you’ll truly be living a successful and fulfilling life.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
We would be bringing our best and most authentic selves to everything we do. I believe we’d be happier and more positive all around.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
Our idea that other people’s perception is more important than our own lived experience. This is a big obstacle, but definitely can be overcome. Anytime you are assessing various areas of your life and asking yourself what needs to change, pay attention to your thoughts — did you think about what your colleagues might think, did you have a vision of your parents disapproving of your actions, did your spouse come to mind as not being supportive? Then ask yourself, how would you feel? Would you be proud of the action you want to take? We can get over the bad habit of thinking of others’ reactions first by creating a better habit of considering how we feel about something and whether we’d be proud or feel good about what we’re doing.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
I have a support system of friends, family and health practitioners. I’ve also found much motivation and inspiration through podcasts and books. The number one book I would recommend is Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. Another one I really liked is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Some podcasts I would recommend are Untangle, Hello Monday, the Good Life Project, and Happen to Your Career. There is so much content out there, that you’re bound to find something that encourages you to find what success means to you.
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’d love to meet John Krasinski. I think his positive energy is so contagious. It seems like he’s a down-to-earth and loving person. I’m sure he’d have some excellent tips on living a successful life. My husband also thinks there’s no other actor that could play a better Jack Ryan!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m on linked in. If anyone wants to connect with me, feel free to DM me.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.