Establish a personal definition of success.

Success is deeply personal and, likely, what success means to you may not be the same as what it means to someone else. It’s important to identify what success signifies to you, and not what you’ve been taught it represents. This sounds simple but it will require quite a bit of self-reflection to separate your intrinsic indicators from those you’ve acquired over time. Paying attention to what motivates you to your core is much more valuable than meeting standards on society’s ‘to-do’ list of what makes you successful.

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 Erin Nesci.

Erin Nesci is one of the industry’s top Business Coaches for Creative Entrepreneurs. She specializes in helping creative women replace the corporate 9–5 and launch a profitable business that showcases their creativity through her signature program the ‘Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs’, a 4-Pillar approach to building a business from the ground up for creative thinkers.

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 have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but it was heavily tempered by a very real fear of failure. For years, I focused on climbing the corporate ladder because I believed that once I got to a certain point, I would have a level of autonomy and authority that would satisfy my entrepreneurial drive. And yes, as my seniority grew, I did gain certain liberties with decision-making and how to structure my departments and projects. But it wasn’t what I was looking for and it didn’t satisfy my drive to do something on my own.

The change catalyst for me finally deciding to leave the safety — or better yet, the perceived safety — of the corporate world was a proper introduction to coaching and the importance it offers for personal and professional development. It was a life-changing experience because, until that formal introduction, I didn’t fully understand or even believe in the power of coaching. Sure, I’d heard of coaching before, but I couldn’t connect the dots with how it would help me with any true tangible benefit.

After working with a coach and experiencing the transformation that took place, I realized I was on the brink of something great. I had finally found a profession that would leverage my unique skill sets and allow me to access my creative side while simultaneously applying my business acumen in a way that worked for me, and more importantly, worked for my clients. Helping others has consistently been a motivator for me in my career, so finding something that combined all three passions — creativity, business, and people — was super exciting. It hasn’t always been an easy transition of course, and there have been very real growing pains along the way, but I can honestly say that since I left my corporate role to become an entrepreneur doing something that truly matters to me, I haven’t looked back.

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

I used to subscribe to the notion that success was tied to accolades and money. I worked my tail off to reach that never-ending journey to success, striving for the next promotion and accompanying raise. I refer to it as ‘never-ending’ because I realized that when you believe money equals success, no matter how much money you make or what job title you have, it’s never enough; there is always another promotion and more money to be made. I also realized no matter how much I was making or where I fell in the corporate hierarchy, I didn’t ever feel successful. Sure, there were moments where I felt proud of my accomplishments but beyond my ego being temporarily indulged, there wasn’t ever a lingering sense of success. I’m not saying that money and achievements aren’t important, because they are. Obviously, you need money to survive and having financial means makes it more manageable to overcome certain obstacles. Also, setting goals and achieving them is extremely important to self-satisfaction, self-confidence and personal growth. But for me, my balance was out of whack and I was focused on attaining the wrong mix for my personal needs and wants.

When I think about making money now as a business owner, I approach it differently and it’s completely unrelated to making the largest sum possible. Of course, I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t admit that I want to make money and gather accolades that showcase my unique skills and abilities to grow my business, but I make decisions from a place of value rather than profit. My ‘money-making model’ is centered around what value or benefit I provide my clients and what is it worth to them. If it doesn’t appear that the corresponding price will help me achieve my own financial goals, I provide more tools and services — or value — and I increase the price accordingly. My rationale is if I can help someone build their own creative business that allows them to be successful on their terms, while at the same time building financial security for myself and my family, I’ve achieved success. I don’t need to make the most money, I just need to make enough to give us the freedom and ability to live the lifestyle we choose.

How has your definition of success changed?

I love this question. This is one of the questions I asked myself when deciding whether or not to leave my corporate job to launch my own business. Leading up to that moment, success had always meant more money, more influence, and more recognition via the corporate ladder. Now my definition is vastly different.

Success for me lies in the resilience and courage I’ve exhibited in business, but also in myself and my reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is exciting. You can’t help but be motivated when you wake up in the morning because you get to tackle a job that is going to help you build your business and leave a mark on the world that is uniquely yours. It is meaningful work, regardless of your business model or product or service you sell, because it means something to you. But being an entrepreneur is also very hard. It’s not all wins and excitement. It’s long days doing the job you know, and long days learning the jobs you don’t because, in the beginning, it’s a stretch to hire or contract the help you need. And it’s a lot of sleepless nights filled with worry wondering when the next payday will be and if your investment will prove to be worth it in the end.

When I launched my business, I felt relieved, worried, excited, scared, empowered and restrained. Every emotion had a counter-emotion and everything was overwhelming. I’m still learning and growing into my entrepreneurship, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think that will ever stop because that’s part of being an entrepreneur! But the feelings of worry, fear and restraint have lessened. I know I have the knowledge, skills and experience to build my business into what I want it to be and I have the freedom and flexibility to choose what suits me best. But most importantly, I know I am courageous enough to give it my all and resilient enough to make it happen. To me, that’s a great 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?

I think kindness and empathy towards others go a long way. The pandemic created unchartered territory for all of us, and I think approaching others with an empathetic heart creates a much more tolerant and inclusive society. We are all experiencing this together in real-time, but it’s important to recognize that we also have very different starting points and the impact the pandemic has had on each of us differs immensely from person to person. Being able to see things from another’s perspective and free from judgment would give everyone more grace to live in alignment with what matters most to them and their loved ones, and ultimately, reach success on their terms. Of course, the offshoot of that would be a much more successful and fulfilled society overall.

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

I’m not sure if I would refer to anything pandemic-related as a positive, but from my perspective, I believe some lifestyle changes and shifting priorities resulting from the Covid restrictions have created a new normal for many people which I think could bring benefit to their overall sense of wellbeing. Where I live, for example, we were on lockdown for several months and people were forced to approach their day-to-day very differently than ever before. Businesses were closed and eligible employees — meaning those fortunate enough to have a job where this was an option — were all working from home. Schools shut down and children continued learning in a homeschool model with online lessons from their teacher, and much support from their parents or caregivers. Essentially, people were cut off from anyone outside of their immediate household and forced to see each other solely through video conference. And while people are now back to work and schools have reopened, a permanent shift has happened. Many people continue to work from home rather than commuting to their place of work, and some families have opted to keep their children enrolled in homeschool.

To me, this demonstrates that the pandemic forced people to adjust their lifestyles based on different parameters. I think there are two significant outcomes to this. 1) people are placing more value on a slower tempo lifestyle and hustle culture isn’t glorified the same way as it once was. And 2) there is a deeper appreciation for human connection and in-person interaction that I don’t believe was there with the same passion before the pandemic.

If I think beyond the lifestyle impacts I just discussed and consider the impacts from a business perspective, I would say doing business during the pandemic created, and in many ways improved, channels of customer service and interaction with new ways of serving customers through digital and online platforms. I also think as a society, we have become much more nimble. I believe our ability to pivot and adapt is much more efficient and effective than it was before the pandemic simply because if we wanted to survive, we needed to shift. The result has been more innovation and flexibility, and our willingness to change in the face of adversity has opened new ways of doing business.

We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Establish a personal definition of success.

Success is deeply personal and, likely, what success means to you may not be the same as what it means to someone else. It’s important to identify what success signifies to you, and not what you’ve been taught it represents. This sounds simple but it will require quite a bit of self-reflection to separate your intrinsic indicators from those you’ve acquired over time. Paying attention to what motivates you to your core is much more valuable than meeting standards on society’s ‘to-do’ list of what makes you successful.

  • Maintain healthy boundaries.

Advocate for yourself and prioritize your values and mental health above all else. It’s important to keep your wellbeing top of mind so you can recognize when sabotaging thoughts and emotions start to work their way in to chip away at your progress. Also, make sure you get enough sleep and don’t burn yourself out. As a result, you will be able to work more effectively and with greater focus.

Another way to protect your boundaries is learning to say no to things that don’t help you get closer to your newly defined personal definition of success. So, the next time you are asked to do something that is out of alignment with your goals, say no and give yourself the gift of time to say yes to the things that do.

  • Build a strong inner circle of support and keep those people close to you.

A strong inner circle will lift you when you falter and will celebrate when you succeed. They are supportive and encouraging and inspire you to keep growing into your version of success. Build your circle with people who have done what you are trying to do, people who love you unconditionally, and people who challenge and motivate you to do better. I’m sure you’ve heard that you are the average of the five people you spend your time with, so don’t underestimate the importance of your inner circle. Say goodbye to Debbie Downers and Negative Nellie’s and build an inner circle with people you admire and aspire to be. With the right influences surrounding you, the expectations you hold for yourself and your ability to achieve them will naturally rise.

  • Build a life you are excited to be living.

Every day you wake up, choose one thing to look forward to. Not everything will always work out exactly as you want it to, but being able to wake up and look forward to your day is an often overlooked luxury. It’s important to do things that allow you to live life on your own terms. Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions.

During those times when you are not looking forward to a particular task, focus on the end goal and use it as motivation to work through the tougher or tedious times. Figure out what resources you have available that can help you work through whatever you are struggling with…don’t forget about your inner circle here because they are a great resource in times like these. Approaching things from an optimistic mindset will help minimize the pain point and keep your energy up for the less exciting parts of your day.

  • Keep learning and growing. Always be open to new experiences.

Continued lifelong learning will introduce you to new concepts, ideas and opportunities that can contribute to your success. Similarly, opposing perspectives can open your eyes to new possibilities. Equip yourself with as many tools as possible to help you build success as you define it. You never know who you’ll meet along the way and what impact or influence they’ll have on your results.

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

Success is a big determinant of a person’s self-confidence, self-worth and overall happiness. By holding ourselves accountable to an external definition of success, we are potentially creating a life for ourselves that has us continually striving for something that doesn’t truly matter to us and we likely won’t achieve. And considering one of the largest societal indicators of success is based on money, it’s rather discouraging that the richest 1% of the entire population owns approximately 45% of the world’s wealth. It’s a constant hamster wheel that has us running fast to nowhere, chasing something we aren’t even sure will satisfy us anyway.

I think if people accepted that the interpretation of success was unique to everyone and could identify what it represents for them, we would have a society of much happier people who were content with what they had and led much more fulfilled lives. Placing more emphasis on reaching personal objectives and less importance on the material gain will create stronger values around intangibles that bring substance and pleasure to our lives. Designer labels, fast cars and big houses will take a back seat to connections with others, personal achievement, self-discovery and living with joy.

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

I think the biggest obstacle is the value, or dare I say honor, we associate with amassing financial wealth. If someone has a lot of money, we automatically think they’ve made it. In my opinion, there is a huge misconception that money equals happiness, and unfortunately, many people aspire to be rich because of it. We have been bombarded with messages that faster cars, bigger homes, and C-suite titles are things to covet and chase. Unfortunately, I think this system is flawed. It establishes unrealistic expectations and ultimately has people neglecting their true ambitions to focus on building their bank accounts.

The best way to overcome this is to reflect on when you felt most successful. What were you doing? What was the outcome? What about it made you feel successful? At first, you might defer to experiences connected with money and status, but you might be surprised and learn something about yourself you never acknowledged before. Have the courage to accept your true ambitions and share them with others because the world needs diversity and everyone is looking for something. You don’t have to fit into the cookie-cutter version of what society tells you represents a successful person. Commit to reaching success on your terms, and the financial gain will follow.

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

Honestly, I look inward and consider what I want. I looked outside of myself for so long on what I thought I needed to do to be successful that I completely neglected anything that didn’t fit that definition. Ultimately, I was left feeling pretty frustrated because I never felt successful. My advice to anyone reading this is to do some self-reflection and identify what success represents for you first. Then look at resources to help you achieve that, whatever it may be.

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 Simon Sinek. Everything I’ve ever read, watched or heard from him resonates with me. He genuinely inspires me and I think he is an incredibly brilliant and insightful person.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

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