Measure impact in the soul, not the scale. The business world is so focused on metrics and scale, but true impact can be in all the little moments of human connection with co-workers, strangers, or the homeless woman you pass on your commute to work every day.
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 Lindsay MacMillan.
Lindsay MacMillan is an author, TEDx speaker, and former VP at Goldman Sachs. Her debut novel, The Heart of the Deal, publishes in June 2022 and has already been a Barnes & Noble Top 100 bestseller. Lindsay’s books center around strong, relatable women who are re-defining success in their relationships and careers.https://community.thriveglobal.com/media/afd8868d0b39ceadaf8f624eeeb019e6
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?
Writing — creating — has always been a calling for me. I wrote my first manuscript when I was eighteen to help me through my parents’ divorce. That book never got published, nor did the four other manuscripts that I wrote and pitched in the years that followed. It would have been easy to give up, but I couldn’t. That little whisper (correction: that loud whisper) in my soul wouldn’t let me.
So I kept going, carving out time to pursue my literary dreams as I worked a demanding Wall Street job. I’d wake up before 5am to write for a few hours every day at the Starbucks across from my Manhattan office. And finally, last year, it happened. I landed two book deals at an NYC publisher.
I could no longer deny that voice telling me to step off the safe and conventionally successful path and into the creative unknown. For a while, I’d been building up the confidence to make that jump, and now it was time.
Last month, I took the leap of faith to quit my Wall Street job and be a full-time “authorpreneur.” It’s as terrifying as it is exhilarating, but it feels incredible to finally be pursuing my dream as a career.
Through my books and my own journey, I’m trying to re-write the narrative of what success really means for my characters, for myself, and for anyone else who’s grappling with their calling in 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 having the fancy job title and the C-Suite position — running a Fortune 500 company, for example. And I thought it meant having a massive platform and huge sphere of influence.
As a woman, I felt a particular sort of pressure to achieve this kind of success in the corporate world. I felt like I owed it to the female trailblazers before me who had helped me get a seat at the conference room table. If I didn’t make it all the way to the top, I was letting them down. And if I took a lower-paying job in favor of more work/life balance or if I left the corporate world altogether, I was reinforcing gender normative stereotypes and being anti-feminist.
As far as success outside of work, I used to think that marriage was the key performance indicator of success in relationships. The equivalent of the C-suite position. The pressure to find a life partner and start a family can be exacerbated among women, with our ticking biological clocks. Getting married by thirty seemed like the top rung of the “romantic ladder” that everyone was climbing towards. Myself included.
How has your definition of success changed?
I no longer think about success within the small box of a job title or celebrity status. It’s not about how many people you can reach with your platform, but rather how deeply you reach them.
Success is about humility and compassion and making time for people even when it won’t help you rise up. It looks like greeting the office janitors by name, making time to mentor the intern, and checking in on a colleague who’s having a hard time. Success relies on doing the small, kind-hearted things that may go unrewarded in the traditional sense.
And more than any outward action, success at its most fundamental level is about the inward connection with ourselves. A successful career is one that aligns with our intuition. If we’re so busy grinding blindly up the corporate ladder, we risk missing out on the whisper in our soul nudging us in the direction of true fulfillment.
This type of soul-deep success isn’t measured with metrics, but it can be tracked by the sense of inner peace and purpose that comes from living in truth.
This re-thinking of workplace success has also changed how I think about “living up to my potential” as a woman. The pressure that I felt to rise up the corporate ladder and narrow the gender pay gap to “make women proud” was not in fact feminism. It was toxic feminism, and it was making me feel like there was only one right way to be a successful woman. Like a woman who pursued a less lucrative career (such as being an author) or stayed home to care for her family was making a wrong and shameful choice.
But I now see that true feminism is just about empowering everyone to have the option to pursue different paths if they want to. And then it’s about being kind to ourselves and to other women for the choices they make, no matter how similar or different to our own.
When it comes to success in relationships, I no longer see marriage as that shiny end goal or key performance indicator. Yes, I still hope to get married and have a family, but I’m focused on how healthy and vibrant my relationships are, not whether they’re following some rigid timeline or template. Too often, our social media culture can distort marriage into little more than a filtered moment that portrays a proud of sense of “Look, I did it! I made it!” But real success in marriage is everything that comes after saying “I do.”
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?
To access true success in a post-pandemic world, society needs to help empower people to cultivate meaningful pursuits and relationships outside of work.
Corporations need to wake up to the reality that increasingly, people aren’t living to work, but rather working to live. And rather than feel threatened by this perceived sense of employee disengagement or lack of loyalty to their jobs, companies have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and encourage their employees to have rich and fulfilling lives outside of work. They need to accept — even embrace — that many people today want work to take up a smaller chunk of the pie than it used to. Millennials and Gen Z are not looking to their jobs to give them their identity or their purpose in life.
The way that companies can stop the Great Resignation isn’t by raising salaries or doling out bigger bonuses. It’s about giving people a greater sense of purpose — and realizing that this purpose does not have to come from their job. It can come from their family or their side hustle or their yoga retreats. And that is okay! Companies should free themselves from the notion that they have to inspire people with some grand sense of mission and purpose to retain good people. They just need to give their people the time and space and boundaries to cultivate meaningful parts of their life outside of work and be holistically healthy.
Rather than scorn or resent the phrase, “A job is just a job,” corporations need to embrace that as a key to success — for their employees’ fulfillment, and also for their own bottom lines.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
Despite the challenges, the pandemic has brought some silver linings to our society, which are reflected in the microcosm of my own life.
Most notably, I left the rat race and reconnected with my roots. When I fled Manhattan in March 2020 to wait out the pandemic at my mom’s house in small-town Michigan, I thought I was only going to be back for two weeks. I was desperate to return to my “real life” in New York. My snobbish, city slicker attitude gave me the feeling that I was the only one in these parts with any real ambition. That everyone around here was settling and not living up to their potential.
Over the next year that I lived with my mom, my perspective changed completely. I started to appreciate the beauty of life in Michigan, with the slower pace of life, close-knit community, and peaceful lakes that give you the feeling you’re not late to anything. And I met a gem of a guy who treats me so much better than the Peter Pans I met in the transactional New York City dating app market.
Once I redefined what success really means, I’ve been able to see how people in my hometown are actually more successful than many high-flying execs in New York. They’re deeply connected with their family, friends, and nature. They value faith over fame and get their identity from the spiritual world, not the secular one. And rather than sprinting 24/7 to achieve that next thing, they’re deeply content where they are and grateful for their blessings, big and small.
The quarantine months humbled me in the way I so badly needed.
So after a decade away, I’ve recently moved back to Kalamazoo full-time, hoping to use my platform as an author to give back to the community that has poured so much into me over the years.
Both physically and emotionally, the pandemic has helped point me back home.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
- Let intuition guide ambition. Tap into your inner knowing to bravely pursue a life that’s full and true, even if it looks very different from the “right track,” according to society.
- Measure impact in the soul, not the scale. The business world is so focused on metrics and scale, but true impact can be in all the little moments of human connection with co-workers, strangers, or the homeless woman you pass on your commute to work every day.
- Find joy in the journey. We’re often so focused on the end goal and destination that we forget to have fun along the way. Ease up on yourself and enjoy the time before you’ve “made it.” Because, spoiler alert, you’ll probably never feel like you’ve made it, as the goal posts will keep shifting.
- Live for your legacy, not your resume. Instead of getting caught up on the corporate treadmill, think about what you want people to remember about you when you’re gone. Let your mortality free you — we’re all going to be dead soon, so think about what you want your legacy to be.
- Let love breathe on its own timeline. Instead of feeling like you have to hurry up and lock in a partner, take the pressure off and remember that successful relationships take many shapes and forms, and true love has no deadline.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
If we changed our definition of success, more of us would be living lives that feel full and authentic on the inside, rather than empty-feeling lives that look impressive from the outside. We’d be less concerned with our resumes and more concerned about our legacies.
And rather than grinding up a ladder that someone else told us we should climb, we’d be gliding through the world as free-form dancers, designing purpose-filled lives free from societal expectations.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
Inertia is our biggest obstacle to redefining success. It keeps us Zombie-walking through life on the conventional track because it’s the normal and often easy thing to do.
It’s important to push back against that inertia of the status quo and become fully conscious of our actions. That looks like evaluating what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in every part of our life. If, after that introspection, we still decide to carry on in the same direction, that’s perfectly fine. But that process of stepping back and thinking critically is necessary to make sure that we’re actively living our own life, not just passively passing through someone else’s.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
I turn inward, to the kind and compassionate voice in my soul that I know as God. Reminding myself of the gift of being on earth — and how transient this human life is — helps me re-center around what’s important. The wonderful people close to me also help me keep perspective.
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.
Reese Witherspoon because I so admire her versatility as an actor and badass businesswoman. A career dream of mine is to have one of my books picked up by her production company. Also, the cover of my debut novel is pink, and some early readers seem to be confused — appalled, even — that such a “cute pink book” dares to deal with heavier themes like mental health. This has shown me how far we still have to go to finish the good fight that Elle Woods helped carry forward with Legally Blonde — taking women in pink seriously when they speak. So yes, Reese would be an absolute dream.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can pre-order my debut novel, The Heart of the Deal, from this Penguin Random House link or anywhere books are sold. To support small business, I’m encouraging people to buy from their local indie bookstores! I also post unfiltered prose and poetry on Instagram (@lindsaymacwriting).
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.