Look inwards for the meaning of success. When defining success, we tend to look at other people’s achievements before paying attention to our own desires.
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 Paola Knecht.
Paola Knecht is a certified leadership, transformation, and self-development coach, founder of My Mindpower Coaching & Consulting, and author of The Success Mindset: Take Back the Leadership of Your Mind. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, Paola coaches leaders and business people — from different industries and cultural backgrounds — to help them rewrite their stories of success, find joy, and be true to themselves.
With an MBA from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and 15 years’ experience in global companies, Paola understands the increasingly complex challenges business leaders face and strives to help them find real meaning in their lives.
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?
First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I started to write when I was seven years old. My dream was to become a writer: I used to take books from my father’s bookshelf and write on top of every page. That didn’t please my father, and in an attempt to stop me, he moved his books to the tallest part of the bookshelf. That, of course, didn’t stop me, and I began to look for other places where I could write.
One day, while accompanying my father to his office at work, I wandered around his desk and found a collection of Reader’s Digest magazines. Those colorful little books fascinated me, and I would carefully study the images inside. When I turned 10, I started to pay more attention to the content of the magazines. I was attracted to articles about health and self-development, often reading these articles two or three times.
As I grew older and became more aware of the world and my community, I shelved my desire to become a writer and took a different path. I was curious about learning about other cultures and visiting exotic places. That’s when I decided to pursue a career in engineering and international management, which would allow me to travel around the world and get to know new cultures. Eventually, this took me to three different countries: Mexico, the United States, and Switzerland. During this time, I channeled my love of writing and self-development into a journal, where I reflected on my learnings and readings daily, but I regarded it as a hobby.
Entering the business world allowed me to discover my passion for leadership and how we define success. I found that in the business arena, not everything that shines is real. Seemingly happy, wealthy, and successful people had hidden frustrations and doubts about the lives they were leading. And the same could be said of me.
At one point in my career, I had everything I could possibly wish for: a promising career at a young age, exciting world travel, a loving partner, and the means to buy almost anything I wanted. But something was missing; I wasn’t feeling satisfied with my life. After much reflection, the reality hit me: I wasn’t being true to myself. I wasn’t spending enough time doing what I really loved: writing and giving people sound advice when they needed it.
This epiphany led me back to the topic of self-development, and I decided to become a certified professional coach and once again focus on my writing. My recent book, The Success Mindset: Take Back the Leadership of Your Mind, is the culmination of everything I’ve learned over the years about defining success in ways that are truly meaningful.
The world’s greatest leaders and creators, from both ancient and modern times, all defined success in personal terms. My hope is that readers realize they can do the same. They can design their own path forward based solely on what matters to them.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
I used to believe that success was reserved for people who were gifted, highly intelligent, born into privileged circumstances, lucky, or some combination thereof. I thought that ordinary people weren’t destined for success.
I also bought into the idea that success meant being wealthy, popular, and influential. I went to school in an elitist, upper-class institution in my hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. There, the richest kids were the most popular kids. They had the coolest toys, the nicest clothes, and every kid wanted to copy them. Growing up in a middle-class family, everything around me seemed to support that notion that “having more meant becoming more.” It took a lot of time, experience, and self-reflection to dismantle this view of success and discover a better way of looking at it.
How has your definition of success changed?
After years of dedicating my life to the study of leadership and success, I’ve discovered some fascinating things. For example, when you look at the greatest leaders of all time — people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., or Steve Jobs — you’ll find that their success didn’t come from privileged positions in society. In fact, most of them grew up in normal families, and some even lived in precarious conditions.
Many of the leaders I’ve met and admired, both through my work as coach and in my previous career as an engineer, also came from humble beginnings. However, they all had certain personality traits that helped them transcend their realities. They all had a vision, a desire to transform their environments into something more positive, more just, or more beautiful. They found meaning in life by throwing themselves at a cause or by helping a particular group of people. They worked hard, remained consistent, and kept their thoughts and actions focused on reaching their goals. That’s what helped them transform their own realities.
I realized that the true meaning of success is being able to reassess, rewrite, and reconstruct your own reality. It’s about being true to who you are and what you want to 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?
Though the pandemic has brought devastating consequences to many aspects of our lives, it’s also brought an opportunity to reconnect with our fighting spirit and awareness of our inner strengths.
It given us time to reflect as a society. We need to ask whether the mainstream definition of success — the luxurious lives of Hollywood stars, social media influencers, politicians, and artists — is really helping us become better people, or, instead, if it’s throwing us into a never-ending spiral of consumption, competition, dissatisfaction, and collective depression.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 280 million people worldwide suffered from chronic depression in 2021, and this number keeps growing. So, something in the way we’re leading our lives is seriously wrong.
That’s why I ask: Why not take a chance and redefine our lives and how we view success? Why not look inwards and reconnect with our inner child, who already knows what we love? Why not reconnect with our passions and talents and find new ways to bring them back into our lives? Why not rewrite our own story of success?
It’s time to reclaim the leading role in our lives and stop living as mere spectators, letting others define what success in life should look like.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
In my practice as a coach, I’ve had the privilege of watching clients transform their lives — even amid lockdowns and other adverse events. One story I’m happy to share is about a client of mine, a middle-aged woman who was a retail marketing specialist before she lost her job due to the pandemic. She came to me in distress and was afraid and unsure about what to do next. She’s a single mother and felt pressured to return to work as quickly as possible so she could continue to provide for her daughter.
During our coaching conversations, I inquired about who she really is and what her passions are. In the beginning, she was reluctant to dive deep into that. She believed she needed a quick solution to earn money and was afraid to discover other things about herself.
However, after a few sessions, she agreed to explore more. She discovered that her job wasn’t something she felt passionate about. She could see that the sadness and depression that came from losing her job were attached to the comfort and security it brought. Her job allowed her to hide herself from…herself. Without a job to fill her time, she felt exposed and vulnerable.
During our coaching sessions, we explored how her values and beliefs shaped her personality and, ultimately, her life. She recalled that one of her old passions had been learning new languages and teaching others. She talked about the joy she feels when language opens her mind to seeing life in new ways. She enrolled in a Portuguese course and eventually started to offer online language courses to other adults. By the time the lockdown restrictions had lifted, she’d set up her own website and enrolled her first language students, whom she met via Skype.
This story fascinates me because it clearly shows how adversity can become our best teacher. What appeared to be a tragedy for my client ended up being a gift, an opportunity to rediscover herself and connect to her true vocation.
Another story is my own: I started writing The Success Mindset in a hospital bed back in March 2020 after giving birth to my son, Henry. It was the beginning of the pandemic. Although I was extremely happy about the birth of my son, I also felt exhausted and frustrated because I couldn’t have my husband, daughter, or any visitor with me to share the joy of having my newborn by my side. The hospital prohibited all visitors with no exceptions.
Although it was unfortunate in a way, I decided to turn this negative situation into an opportunity. While my son was sleeping, I started drafting what later became the book’s outline. By the time I came home with my son, I had already started the first draft of the manuscript, written by hand in my journal.
Without this time in the hospital to be alone with my thoughts, I probably wouldn’t have started the book, which reinforces my belief that difficult situations are blessings in disguise. We need to have the patience, courage, and determination to discover the true gifts hiding in every difficult situation.
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.)
- Look inwards for the meaning of success. When defining success, we tend to look at other people’s achievements before paying attention to our own desires.
For example, as a girl, I dreamed about being a writer. But as I grew up, I saw that people around me viewed earning money and buying all sorts of things as the standard measure of success. That made me unconsciously follow this path. It took a lot of introspection to realize that I was following a path set by others and not by me. Only after having this awareness was I able to write my own definition of success: being actively involved in projects that transform people’s lives.
2. Live your life as a role model for others. There’s an interesting paradox in the mainstream definition of success. On one side, society tells us what success looks like, serving as a role model for all. But when we look closely, this definition — which often involves the accumulation of diplomas, material things, and the like — is a cover-up for what people really want: attention.
We wrongly relate success to the need to be heard, admired, and even loved. This trap comes to light when you enter the race and realize you’re not getting these emotional needs met. You might have more money, a beautiful house, and a trendy car but still feel empty, anxious, and alone.
What if, instead, we define success as becoming a role model for others by finding a cause, a project, or a dream to fight for and live for? What if we define success as improving the world we live in? Nelson Mandela never dreamed of becoming the first Black president of South Africa. He simply dreamed of living in a free, democratic society with equal opportunities for all, and he fought for it, even when it led to untold sufferings and imprisonment. His desire to make a positive change in his country, an inner desire to achieve the cause he so long dreamed about, is what ultimately made him succeed and transcend.
3. Value the simple life. When the word “simple” comes to mind, most of us relate it to scarcity or even loss. But, in actuality, a successful life comes from enjoying life to the fullest with less. When you’re able to focus on a cause, set priorities in your life, or feel immense joy from simply watching a sunset, playing with your children, or eating wholesome meals. The best things in life are simple and beautiful.
Embracing simplicity requires a profound knowledge of yourself. When you know who you really are, you can focus your energy on the things that matter most. You don’t need to “get lost” in the accumulation of superfluous things that lead people into black holes and addictions. Instead, invest your well-earned money and resources into things that result in sustainable growth. That’s how real wealth is created.
4. Stay curious. Curiosity is the seed of genius. What keeps life exciting and worth living is when we feel an unexplainable sense of wonder about it. Curiosity, for me, is like that sparking light of divinity that sheds light on the mysterious works of life, and you can’t help but feel goosebumps when you experience it.
All the great minds of ancient and modern times — scientists, philosophers, artists, and writers — remained intensely attentive to their curiosity. Steve Jobs, one of the entrepreneurs I admire most, often mentioned that his curiosity, combined with his intuition, were priceless in finding new ways to solve problems and create innovative solutions.
5. Don’t fall for ready-made recipes for success. In the era of social media, one of our biggest mistakes is believing in instant, one-size-fits-all recipes for success. We blindly believe everything authorities and experts say about how things should be and what we should do. Yet, the reality is that following what these people say just makes them richer and more powerful. We give away our own power by giving them our money, trust, and attention without first questioning if it makes sense for us.
I once had a client who fell into this trap. She bought into an online business idea sold by a “financial expert and business guru,” who promised to turn her online business into a thousands-of-dollars-a-month deal by simply buying his “get rich” program. She spent hundreds of dollars over five months and completed the program to the letter. But in the end, she didn’t boost her online business, and the “business guru” cashed his money and disappeared.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
Defining success on your own terms — by paying attention to your vision and dreams, your core values, and your life priorities — is one of the truest acts of self-love and self-respect. You put yourself in the right role: the central character of your life. This is by no means selfish or narcissistic. It’s the primary responsibility of every person to discover what gives life meaning.
I believe that if people rejected the classical view of success, one based on the accumulation of things, and, instead, looked inward and found meaning in beauty and simplicity, we’d see much happier, balanced, and healthier people in the world. We’d have fewer cases of excessive overconsumption, addiction, anxiety, and depression. We’d cultivate a better way to relate with ourselves and nature. We’d think more consciously about our environment, our health, and about others’ well-being, too! When you are happy about who you are, you can be there for others.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
The biggest obstacles are getting rid of our limiting beliefs about success and then getting rid of bad habits. As creatures of habit, we tend to bounce back to our old patterns of thinking and acting. It requires constant effort and serious introspection to reset our old habits and build new ones that are more in line with our beliefs.
My advice would be the following: Make a conscious decision to become the best version of yourself. Put in the hours, the days, or the months into getting to know yourself better. Take a break from social media and other distracting activities. Spend time alone in silence to reflect on the person you want to become and how to get there. Define your own life’s vision. Live by your own philosophy. Discover new paths to walk in life. Do that, and you’ll be surprised by where it can lead you!
Where do you go to look for information and information about how to redefine success?
I immerse myself in books about the topics I keep closest to my heart: self-development, mental health, the psychology behind mindsets, spirituality, business, sustainability, science, biology, and history. I’m an immensely curious person and love to connect areas of knowledge. I keep an open mind and look for people who inspire me, which keeps my curiosity open and moving forward.
I’m not an advocate of “do it my way” advice. No one knows you better than yourself, so why let other people that don’t even know you dictate what success looks like? The only people I recommend to follow are the ones you genuinely admire — as long they support your own vision of success.
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.
It would be an absolute pleasure to have lunch with Dr. Edith Eger, a holocaust survivor who recently published her autobiography, The Choice: Embrace the Possible. She’s a wonderful example of resilience and keeping a strong spirit in the face of extremely challenging times. I was touched by her story and how she found a way of dealing with her pain by helping others overcome suffering.
I also follow a lot the work of Brené Brown. I like her authenticity and share her passion for researching how vulnerability, empathy, and shame influence our personal and professional relationships. I’ve read most of her books and have learned a lot from them.
Psychologist Jordan Peterson is another person I’d invite to dinner. I find him to be a truly authentic character who understands the struggle we have as human beings in finding our own path, recognizing our demons, and despite them, choosing to live in light, truth, and courage.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
If you wish to get in contact, I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on www.my-mindpower.com.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.