Resilience — The first way I’ve redefined success is through resiliency. During Covid, I had to juggle my 9–5 with being a mother, taking care of my home, and running my private projects — blogging and clothing line. It was exhausting, and I knew that I needed to work on my own terms to succeed in anything.
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 Mona Symone.
Mona Symone is a hard-working entrepreneur, dedicated mother and author of the children’s book ‘One Brave Knight’ that teaches kids to face their fears of sleeping alone. After her 12-year-old son endured bullying several times, she took immediate action by having continued discussions with her child and school administrators.
Mona maintained an open dialogue with her son, encouraging him to tell her everything that happened each day so he would be better equipped to handle what was happening. He slowly learned how to fight his own battles, including when to fight, when not to, and when to seek adult intervention from mom and administrators. The bullying her son faced and the uphill battle with administration inspired Mona to create I’m Just Me which provides important resources to parents which allow kids to get help and stand up to bullies. She then went on to create an online empowerment store where kids can truly show how empowered they can be.
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?
My passion for helping parents deal with their bullied kids started from my early life experiences as a child. Growing up, it was quite the norm to tease and be teased. For those of us who didn’t find it funny, we had no one to run to. As I said, it was normal, and even the adults will often, through their actions, tell us to “suck it up,” as it was a way of molding us into strong adults. However, at such an early age, I was unaware of how the adverse effects of bullying far outweighed the advantages, if there were any.
So, when I discovered that my 12-year-old child was being bullied, I decided to be for him, what no one was for me. The psychological and societal effects of bullying last well into adulthood. So, I researched them, and my findings frightened me. There was no way I was going to let my child take it lying down.
Bullying, as I knew it, had taken a different shape and form; it was more intense, nasty, and brutish. With the arrival of social media and advanced technology, bullying doesn’t stop when children get home from school; there is no breathing room for bullied children.
I remember my child enduring all sorts of physical violence from school bullies, such as being slapped and punched. They even had his backpack thrown into the garbage at some point. It broke my heart. I knew I had to do something. When it came to helping my child overcome bullying, I discovered the void in specific anti-bullying policies that govern school children. For example, for schools with zero tolerance for physical violence, I found that such policies ran foul with the rights of a kid being bullied as there is no self-defense policy.
In dealing with bullies, I taught my son to stand up for himself. But what happens if he gets punished for fighting back while trying to defend himself against bullies? This inspired me to start the “I’m just me” brand and write about my personal experience, “A time to fight back.” I wanted parents to help their children know where the limit was with bullying. By sharing my child’s real-life experiences, I wanted children to stand up to their bullies with as much support as they could get from the most influential adults in their lives — their parents.
I also found that counseling was an effective tool in building my child’s confidence. I made sure that he was comfortable talking to me about everything and anything. That way, I was able to gain his trust, which laid a solid foundation for me to advise him on navigating the challenges of academic and social life.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
As children, we all believed we could be and do anything. We would watch MTV or BET and think ‘I could be a rock star’. We thought we could be as good as Michael Jackson or grow up to be Whitney Houston or Beyonce. We sing in the shower or just practice in the mirror, and some of us wait for the sudden success to come to us; I think this is where a major misconception about success comes from. The myths and misconceptions about success are rooted in our beliefs. We all believe that we can sing in the shower, but when we step out into the real world — face the judges of American Idol, for instance — is it our fantasy that helps us win? No. Yes, anyone can be anything they want, but what helps us win in the real world is hard work.
So, what do we tell our kids about the misconceptions about success and their dreams? Yes, it’s amazing you want to be a model, actor/actress, YouTube, Disney Star, that excellent Gamer that will make TONS of money from endorsements… but how much sweat, blood, and tears are you willing to put into it? And what child knows what the value of sacrifice really means? That’s where the conception of success really comes into play. Unfortunately, TV shows hardly show the behind-the-scenes version of our superheroes’ successes, but success sometimes comes from the little things.
Maybe your child has been struggling in math or reading, and they eventually pull that C into a B .. or that D into a C.. just from hard work. There will be no famous Oscar awards, but is this not success? We used to believe that straight A’s meant you were just brilliant, but how about coming from nothing to something — from the C to the A — isn’t their value in pulling up your bootstraps and marching into success? The misconception in success, especially in children, is that you have to be born into greatness automatically, but that is not true. Success comes from the dirty work. This has become especially apparent from the COVID-19 pandemic, where children mastered the technological world through teams and uploaded and submitted their work through portals that not even parents understood.
Do you want to define success? Let’s look at the small things our children managed to pull off every day! Many parents who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs had two or more children to pull through school. This required hard work! I remember bouncing from my laptop on my desk in my living room to my son’s makeshift office/dining room table, and he managed to get a few A’s and B’s. Now, that’s a success! This was at the beginning where the schools didn’t know what they were doing at the time, and there were no in-person classes, just “here is the assignment: read the chapter and good luck.”
If we want to help our children, let’s emphasize hard work. Vanity awards are just a smokescreen because success doesn’t magically appear on TV. Instead, we must focus on the little things because they matter a lot.
How has your definition of success changed?
Simply put, I’ve learned that success isn’t entirely brewed in the four walls of a classroom. Of course, school is essential, especially if you need to get into a professional field. However, much of learning (and success) is resourcefulness. It’s in what you find out for yourself rather than what someone else handed down to you. Eventually, most of the things you’ll need to navigate the challenges of life and succeed are self-taught and based on your experiences.
Success also greatly depends on your needs. For me, the popular saying: “necessity is the mother of invention, and consistency is the father of success” holds. It’s not all about what you learned in school, but the education you’re willing to give yourself after college. Success for me now is knowing what I want (necessity) and inventing ways to achieve it through continuous efforts.
For example, after college, I knew I had to leverage Facebook to get ahead in my business. So, I had to learn how to run ads. It was the same thing when I needed email marketing and design work. I realized that I could achieve all my goals with hard work and openness to learn.
At the beginning of my journey, I wondered where I found the audacity to start a business or do things on my own. In addition, I was worried that I didn’t have the time or even the resources to execute all my plans. But guess what? With daily to-do lists, budgeting, constant learning, and planning, I was able to knock off all the tasks I set for myself.
You can do anything! You’ve probably heard that a thousand times, but that’s the truth. The biggest step to take is to start. Start whenever you want with whatever you have, and you’ll find the time and resources you need. For me, I’m successful even if I just get to cross out the tiniest thing on my to-do list. You find success by taking several steps and opening the door to new experiences.
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 taught me just how much we need to adapt to the “new normal” to move forward in any aspect of our lives. The world as we know it can change in a millisecond, and only those who can quickly accept the change and adapt to it will rule the world.
For me, one of the glaring ways society must adjust is by redefining the concepts of trust and micromanagement in the employment/business sector. Companies need to trust their workers and entrust them to do tasks independently with minimal supervision. Pre-covid, remote work was a matter of choice and policies. With the pandemic and the need for more employees working from home, it has become inevitable. Employers need to come up with more effective ways to manage their remote employees so that it maintains and improves productivity. Regardless of the methods they develop, an effective strategy in today’s world will always revolve around trust and more independence. You hired people because, at some point, you believed in their abilities; allow them to use those abilities.
I think many employers do not trust their employees because of the lack of preparation and training. No one envisioned the pandemic, so managers have had to make a significant methodological shift in such a short time. This change has led to conflict and overwhelming challenges. To overcome the problems that these unprepared remote managers are facing, companies should invest more in resources for their employees. There’s evidence that micromanagement depletes employee motivation, and in turn, results in decreased productivity. Team-building exercises, mental health plans, and even trendy but efficient apps can improve employees’ satisfaction and productivity.
The same applies to children and their academics. Parents need to teach their children to be responsible even with minimal supervision. They must also trust their kids to do the right thing. Schooling at home showed my son HUGE responsibility. He learned to work independently and monitor his progress with little external help. He has also learned the art of self-motivation and determination. Although this required a lot of encouragement and took some time to learn, the results are rewarding. We should be looking forward to these in our children, post-covid.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
When I first started the ‘I’m Just Me’ brand (pre-covid), I was working a job full-time. Every day, I would work the typical 9–5, endure rush-hour traffic, spend time with my son, make dinner, and then work until 1 or 2 am because I knew I had work to do. I would then put in work on my anti-bullying blog and work on an empowerment clothing line. So, while I was excited by all my projects, I was always tired.
Surprisingly, the pandemic made me realize what really matters and how much the traditional standard of working wasn’t working for me. Like me, I see the new awakening in many other employees. More people are beginning to find fulfillment in other things outside of work. Small wins, mental health, and little joys are now more of a priority than working in an office. At this time, I feel so fulfilled, and I’ve had more time to prioritize and work on the more important things in my life.
It’s funny, when I was working during the pandemic, I worked more because my workspace was where I was — at home. My child also grew in the technological space; he became more independent and learned many skills. Also, he was no longer bullied as he had a break, and he loved it.
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.)
- Resilience — The first way I’ve redefined success is through resiliency. During covid, I had to juggle my 9–5 with being a mother, taking care of my home, and running my private projects — blogging and clothing line. It was exhausting, and I knew that I needed to work on my own terms to succeed in anything.
- Family — I’ve also learned that success means family. Whenever my child succeeds, it means I succeed too. During the pandemic, all that time when I had to bounce from my laptop on my desk in my living room to my son’s makeshift office wasn’t particularly easy. But I did, and it paid off. He managed to get a few A’s and B’s, and that’s success for me. His success is mine. By putting effort into the family, we are putting effort into our personal success.
- Strength — The third way I redefined success was in finding strength. It was very exhausting to start a business from the ground and build it to become a notable brand. I’ve had numerous times when I was overwhelmed and contemplated giving it all up. However, I had to find strength in the reason I started and how valuable my work is to others. This strength translates to success because it inspires me to try even more.
- Gratitude — Gratitude is essential.
“You cannot expect God to continue to bless you if you’re not grateful for the things that you have.” ~ Steve Harvey
If you are not grateful for the things you have now, how can you be blessed with more? So I show gratitude for everything in my life, and every day I get more blessings and more opportunities.
5. Resourcefulness — Finally, you must be open to learning new things. To grow, you must research and find out what works best for you. You must also understand that learning doesn’t have to be conventional. Many of the things I know now were from searching on YouTube for DIY tips and other unconventional learning platforms.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
There’s a general misconception about the things that make us successful. Many people think that more money, a bunch of houses, more assets, and fame mean everything. However, people who hold these views end up realizing that success is made up of so much more. We can only truly attain success when we’ve fulfilled the longings of our souls; this is very personal. Therefore, we must begin to realize that success is what we choose it to be, for ourselves, and by ourselves. It doesn’t have to be material.
What is your definition of success? You need to ask yourself. Other people’s definition of success isn’t going to keep your passion burning. We need to change our impression of success and deviate from the facade that success happens overnight. No matter your definition of success, it wouldn’t come to you on a platter of gold; set goals and make plans. You’ll have to work for it, and that’s what makes it worth the while in the end. Take Walt Disney, for instance. He filed for bankruptcy in 1920 and ran into lots of financial trouble after that. It was a challenging ride to success for Disney, but eventually, he became rich, famous, and influential, and that was all that mattered in the end.
I’d also like to say that success has no deadline, and we mustn’t think that we can only achieve success at a certain age. The famous story of Colonel Harland Sanders, the owner of KFC, is such an inspiration in this regard and has taught us that the future doesn’t belong to the young alone. He only became a professional chef at 40 and started KFC in his 60s.
Sometimes our definition of success does not need to include materialistic things — think about your family life. Sure, the household was hectic this week, but can you be grateful for the week? As you lay in bed on Sunday night, think about how successful the week was; the laundry was done, food was cooked, and homework was done. You crossed a few things off your to-do list. That’s success!
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
For me, lack of inspiration, fear, and anxiety are major obstacles to our redefined success. When we choose our path, it doesn’t always make sense to everyone, which means we’ll hardly get motivation from external sources. Lack of inspiration can quickly make us go back to the world’s standard for success. Redefining success, as with anything new, brings about fear and anxiety.
I’ve learned that there will always be times when we must look inwards for strength. We must learn to shut out the noise and fight the voices in our heads that discourage us on our unique path. It all starts with remembering why we started in the first place. However, we can overcome fear and anxiety by focusing on the little things. The minor achievements we make tell us that we are doing something right.
My success is in the little things; for instance, when a parent comes to me about their child being bullied, I feel a small amount of success because I know that the ‘I’m Just Me ‘ brand is making an impact, which means the world to me.
Make plans, hold yourself accountable, find a support system/someone to reach out to when you’re tired, and never lose sight of your goal.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
My favorite life lesson quote relates to being fearless and taking chances.
“The only way for you to soar is you got to jump. You got to take that gift that’s packed away on your back, you got to jump off that cliff and pull that cord. That gift opens up and provides the soar. When you first jump, your parachute will not open right away. I’m sorry, I wish I could tell you it did, but it don’t. You gonna hit them rocks. You gonna get some skin tore off on those cliffs … you’re going to be bleeding pretty bad. But eventually, the parachute has to open. You can play it safe and deal without the cuts and the tears and you can stand on that cliff for life forever safe, but if you don’t jump … your parachute will never open. You’ll never know.” ~ Steve Harvey
Steve Harvey’s life story has always been an inspiration to me. It summarizes everything that keeps me going when I wake up every morning. It gives me the strength to keep moving even when I think I’ve reached rock bottom. That’s when I know that the only way from there is up.
I’ve also had the habit of looking for inspiration on YouTube. There are numerous people going through what I’m passing through, and their stories give me the strength to keep it moving.
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 see this if we tag them.
Without a doubt, Steve Harvey. Harvey tried his hands on lots of jobs that never really worked out. From being a salesman to a postman, professional boxer, and other jobs. When he became a comedian, he had to battle many financial setbacks. He lived out of his 1976 Ford Tempo for three years and did menial jobs to survive. He even had to take showers at swimming pools and gas stations.
However, in those three years, Harvey kept believing against all odds for a breakthrough. I’d like to understand what gave him the courage to be so optimistic in the face of such seemingly insurmountable challenges.
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.