Ask yourself where your definition of success came from. When I framed my success as achieving certain titles, it was because that’s the definition I inherited from my parents. Several peers and managers reinforced this. It was only when I looked inward to ask what my definition was that I fully realized success is completely subjective.
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 Kt McBratney.
Kt McBratney is obsessed with disrupting the status bro. She’s the co-founder and chief brand officer at OwnTrail, the platform where women visualize and navigate their paths through life. She’s also a visual artist, borderline book hoarder and former marketing exec who’s spent her career building communities and brands across industries.
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 diagnosed with major depression and anxiety when I was 14 years old, and my mental health has always been a voice in my story. Because I was fairly young when I had my first major depressive episode, I experienced the stigma and discomfort that many people have with mental illness early on. Some friends could relate, others cared but had no idea what to do and others distanced themselves. Even adults’ reactions and actions varied wildly. This helped me learn to advocate for my own health, taught me empathy for others and helped me learn not just my symptoms and risk factors but a robust toolbox to live with a common yet often debilitating condition. My mental health journey has shaped my approach to friendship, parenthood, leadership and creativity — for the better.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
I believed for so long that my productivity was the measure of my value in this world, and that the only path to my success was directly tied to how much work I could do to make my employer successful. I prided myself on being the “get sh*t done girl”, whether it was climbing the ranks in the ad agency world or growing new brands from the ground up in the startup world. I told myself I didn’t need the credit, that being a part of the “win” was enough. That putting in long hours and sacrificing my personal goals would be ‘worth it’. I let myself believe that suffering was the price for career success, and that the reward would be happiness. I was so, so wrong. My hard work was recognized, but the reward was more hard work and the expectation (that I had set) that I would continue to sacrifice myself.
That’s a huge reason I was drawn to co-found OwnTrail in the first place. I want to absolutely crush this myth that there’s one single right path through life. There are infinite right paths! I believe this is more than a myth but a very pretty lie we’ve all been told most of our lives. I remember being a kid and imagining so many possibilities for myself. I wanted to be a lawyer, an author and a TV anchor — at the same time! Most of us had these kinds of beautiful, wild dreams that might seem illogical or improbable now. I think this myth of ‘one right path’ or only one acceptable definition of success is to blame for us limiting what we see for ourselves, not just when looking forward. When we let go of that constraint, we can see ourselves as whole people with valuable experiences and insights. That’s immensely powerful, especially for women, nonbinary folks and anyone holding a marinalized identity.
How has your definition of success changed?
Now I define success by how I’ve spent my day. Do I feel good about how I used my time? Am I being driven by care or by fear? What did I do to put even a bit more good into the world? Honestly, it’s a lot harder to measure than when I could convince myself that I succeeded when I checked more things off the to-do list, but it helps me focus on doing the work of my life instead of pretending that doing a job was a life.
Professionally, I am my most successful now when I see how OwnTrail is having an impact on someone’s life. Personally, I feel the most successful when I have not just time but the mental energy to build OwnTrail, be fully present with my family and flex my creative chops. (I’m a mixed media artist and writer.) It doesn’t all happen every day, but success is trying to make the best of every day — not squeeze the most into it.
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?
There are so many harmful, oppressive systems affecting us all, and the pandemic has brought that to light even more. I believe that self-reflection is a powerful tool we can all use to understand, question and this dismantle and replace these systems. But it all starts with honest, authentic self-reflection about the role of those systems in our lives — and our roles in those systems.
For me, that reflection led to some real changes in how I approach work. I realized I’d internalized so much of hustle culture that despite co-founding a people-first company, I couldn’t have the impact I wanted until I changed ME. It was a real ‘doctor, heal thyself’ moment that I’m still working on. I work hard at being a good leader for others, but damn if I am not often a terrible self-manager!
Self-reflection is step one; changing your behavior — and the beliefs fueling them — come next, and they’re usually way more valuable (and harder). And we all need to make sure to point that lense inward as well as outward if we want to make the big changes necessary to make the world a more equitable, inclusive, loving place.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
Launching a company weeks prior to a global pandemic has been wild, to say the least! But I am so grateful that OwnTrail has been able to provide authentic connection, support and reflection for thousands of women in this exceptionally challenging time. Women have helped each other navigate career pivots, write books, and support each other as they tell their authentic stories in a way they haven’t before. One woman found the support and space to leave an unfulfilling career in corporate law to build her own private practice to bring exceptional legal resources to overlooked entrepreneurs! Another was able to process past trauma as part of her story and heal from it. Being able to do that work has been a real positive in a mess of negative circumstances. I wouldn’t trade our community for the world!
One of the most challenging experiences of the pandemic has been (and still is!) the impact on childcare. I’m the parent of a small child still unable to be vaccinated, and while I wish she could be out in the world more, the extra time we’ve gotten together has been invaluable. I’ve witnessed so much I would’ve likely missed if the world was “normal”. We’ve painted, gone on so many walks, read ALL the books and gotten to know each other as people and not just parent-child. She’s pretty incredible!
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.)
- Ask yourself where your definition of success came from. When I framed my success as achieving certain titles, it was because that’s the definition I inherited from my parents. Several peers and managers reinforced this. It was only when I looked inward to ask what my definition was that I fully realized success is completely subjective.
- Document your journey authentically. Life moves so fast, and the conventional definition of success is focused on moving forward-forward-forward. By reflecting on my journey past, present and future, I’ve been able to distinguish what might look like success versus what success really was for me and recenter my perspective. For example, my trail on OwnTrail originally included several career roles that weren’t in-line with how I’ve redefined success — so I took them off. How I talk about my experiences has also changed from centering my marketing wins to community-building and system disruption. (Tip: OwnTrail is a super useful tool for doing this!).
- Start a conversation about success with people you admire. I asked a two-time founder I greatly admire about what she feels she’s been successful in doing. Her answers surprised me, both in that she didn’t view herself as successful as I saw her and that her big moments of success were less external than those of the traditional definition of linear, ladder-climbing success. Her increased patience with her kids came up, and so did being able to take a vacation without checking in on her team.
- Make redefining success a practice, not a task. Just because you redefined success now doesn’t mean that definition is forever! in my 20s, I defined success as rapid career advancement. In my 30s, success meant working on things that aligned with my values. Today, success looks like disrupting the status bro and feeling that I did the best (not the most) with every day. I have no idea what it’ll look like in my 50s, but I’m excited to get there and find out!
- Explore what success feels like to you. How does it feel in your body, emotions and relationships? For me, success feels like ease — my shoulders aren’t tense, my jaw isn’t tight, I have an easy range of motion even when sitting at my computer. I feel in-line, not ruled by my emotions. My relationships feel collaborative, not competitive or adversarial.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
Defining success on your terms can set you free — free from the limitations, pressures and disappointments of settling for traditional success. So much of the traditional linear idea of success is rooted in the myth that there’s one right path through life. There’s not! There are infinite right paths, and ‘right’ is subjective just like ‘success’ is. I believe if we all followed our version of success instead of shaping ourselves to fit one homogenized definition of success, we could create a better world. It was the potential and promise of that idea that led me to leave my job and co-found OwnTrail!
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of our redefined success is the prevalence of a single narrative of linear success. The most common success narrative, both fact and fiction, is someone who graduates college, climbs the career ladder, makes more money and gets flashier titles, and usually gets married and/or starts a family in the process. They work hard, and they make it!
My advice is for all of us, even those who can fit that narrative, embrace and get loud about the twists and turns outside that limited lense of success. Show how you’ve broken away from the status quo! When we share our stories of self-doubt, setbacks, passions outside work and more, we normalize that success looks so many different ways. We’re examples that there is no one right path through life, just ours! Ask yourself why you are aspiring to your goals, and challenge where those motivations come from. You might surprise yourself.
Ask people better questions about their journeys, and stop assuming that our definition of success is identical to others. You might aspire to be the CEO of a company that reaches unicorn status, while success for someone else is making a living creating art. Both are completely valid and necessary for a rich community and world.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
My quick fixes of inspiration and info often come from Twitter. Arlan Hamilton is a constant source of inspiration and information — her journey continues to be a complete disruption of the status bro. The same goes for Cindy Gallop. Another digital source I love is Dense Discovery, a weekly newsletter from Kai Brach, based out of Australia. Each week is a treasure trove of curated reads and resources for productivity, inspiration and critical thinking. I read every single one.
I don’t believe there’s a thing as too many books — I would read all day every day if I could! I find that inspiration and information to disrupt the status bro comes from both fiction and non-fiction, so I try to read both and be open to take lessons from wherever they emerge. Lately, I’ve been re-reading bell hooks’ All About Love, Jennifer Armbrust’s Proposals for a Feminine Economy and Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing.
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.
LeVar Burton has been a role model for most of my life, and how he’s aligned his creative, professional and community work over the decades is absolute goals. He was the first person, outside my family, who showed me that there were infinite possibilities for all of us and that storytelling is a key to unlock almost any door. That lesson still guides me to this day, and I’m forever grateful for his presence and work.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Learn more about and connect with me on OwnTrail — here’s my trail! That’s the best way to follow my journey and OwnTrail’s. I’m also active on Twitter @k_to_the_t, where I talk about living that anti-hustle hustle club life and occasionally do Muppet astrology readings.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.