I believe success is a mix of many things: your values, your basic needs, your intellectual needs, your emotional needs, your interests, and so on. To define what success looks like for ourselves, we need to dive into all of these different areas of our lives.

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 Sofie Couwenbergh.

Sofie is a content strategist, writer, and optimizer with 10+ years of experience. Having worked in the travel industry for most of her career, she saw the pandemic as an opportunity to change her business model and target brands in the communication and digital marketing space. As her new approach gained traction, she realized she needed to redefine both herself and what she thought success looked like.

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?

Sure! One defining moment for me was when I quit my office job at the start of 2015 to focus full-time on my travel blog. Launched in the summer of 2012, WonderfulWanderings.com wasn’t making me a lot of money yet but I knew that to grow it, I needed to give it my all. I gave myself a year to make things work and had honestly thought I’d need to find a job again after that year. Luckily, the blog started to take off and I’ve been working for myself ever since. The sense of freedom that has given me is truly amazing.

Four years later, I left a 13-year long relationship to move abroad and create the life I’d always wanted to lead. It was a big step for me as I was very comfortable in that relationship, but something had always been missing and I didn’t want to live my life thinking “what if” and building up resentment along the way. That breakup was two years ago now, and I’ve grown more in those two years than I ever have before.

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

I used to be certain that success for me was about making a lot of money. It took me a long time to realize that what I need is a feeling of financial security, which for me doesn’t equal taking home tens of thousands every month. When you’re surrounded by a lot of entrepreneurs, like I am, it’s hard not to get carried away by the revenue numbers that are shared and the growth charts that are posted on social media. However, I realized that as much as I like money, it remains the means to an end, not a goal in and of itself.

How has your definition of success changed?

When I quit my job to focus solely on my travel blog, being a travel blogger very much became my identity. Not just because I spent so much time on that business, but because that business was meant to lead me to a location-independent lifestyle where I’d be able to live comfortably anywhere in the world. The weird thing was that when I reached that goal, I didn’t feel celebratory. I just kept working like I had been working before but this time without really having something to work toward.

By the time COVID hit, a change was already overdue, and the pandemic sort of gave me the permission to do something else. Suddenly, I was spending only a few hours a month on my blog while dedicating most of my time to client work and while I was loving it, it took me several months to stop seeing myself as “the blogger who does freelance content work” and start defining myself as “a content strategist who also happens to run a travel blog”.

With that change in how I saw myself, came a change in how I saw success. Before, the success of the blog was my success. Now, the success of my business is a much smaller part in what I consider a “successful” life. It’s important, but it doesn’t define me anymore.

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 don’t know if success has taken on a different shape on a societal level. We’ve just become more aware that things like working remotely are possible on a large scale, and at the same time, there is already this tendency to fall back into our old ways. To take the example of remote work, there are now more and more tools that allow you to track employees while they’re working from home.

I think it’s not about doing things differently, but about continuing changes that had already started to take place, and about addressing issues that may have become more apparent during the pandemic, such as domestic abuse or lack of access to the right tools for homeschooling when it comes to kids.

Lastly, I think that if we were able to self-reflect during the pandemic, we were and are privileged. I know many people for whom this period was about nothing more than mere survival for both themselves, their families, and the communities they live in.

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

I moved to Lisbon in Portugal during the pandemic, and an unexpected benefit about that was that people were using Facebook groups to go on socially distanced walks. While it was much harder to build a network here the way you usually would, the pandemic made (especially single) people reach out to each other for help and company.

As mentioned before, the pandemic also gave me the permission I needed to start a new business. I could have persevered and worked on backend things for my travel business, but the fact that I didn’t get any inquiries anymore for client work and barely any travel was happening, made me feel good about pivoting.

Lastly, the pandemic also helped me feel less FOMO and decision fatigue. When you live in a city full of cool people where there are dozens of events every day, it can sometimes be hard to just stay home when you need it. During the lockdown, and whilst restrictions were in place, that changed. We were limited in what we could do, who we could do it with, and where we could do it. While that sucked after a while, for a short period of time it also brought a bit more rest into my life.

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.)

1. Keep asking why.

Let’s go back to how I mentioned earlier that for the longest time, I thought that being successful meant making lots of money. By asking ‘Why?’, I was able to dig deeper and understand that success to me isn’t about the money about the freedom I thought a lot of money could buy. Once I realized that a life in which I felt free was a successful life to me, I could reverse-engineer what I needed to get there, and it was not tens of thousands of euros every month.

2. What do you dislike about your life today?

For a lot of people, it’s easier to know what they don’t want, than what they want. A successful life is one in which you can minimize the things that don’t contribute to your happiness. For me, I realized that there’s a certain type of people that drain my energy, yet I would still hang out with these people because I didn’t consider them “bad” people. It took a while for me to realize that someone doesn’t need to be a bad person to not spend time with them. Once I felt okay to saying no to invitations I didn’t want to say yes to, my capacity grew to engage with the kind of people that made my life better and allowed me to grow as a person.

3. Think micro.

A successful career, relationship, health routine… They don’t just happen after you take one action. They’re the result of multiple small steps you take every day, and each of those steps is a success in its own.

4. Look beyond your career.

Too often we think of our careers when we think about success, but we can be successful in so many areas of our lives. Someone who founded a billion-dollar company can still be miserable and alone, and someone who is a successful artist can still be crippled with health issues. The benefit of “spreading” your success over different buckets is that it’s not that big of a deal when one of them tips over. You’ll have enough good stuff going on to get back on your feet and replenish your success.

5. With a cup of tea. Everything is easier with a cup of tea.

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

That depends on what we’d change it to. ‘How’ is hard to answer, but I think everyone can benefit from questioning what they think success looks like every once in a while. It may just stop you from chasing the wrong things.

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

As with many things, we’re often our own biggest obstacles. We feel comfortable with what we know, with what we’ve always believed, with what we’ve been doing for years. We have patterns and routines we might need to change when we redefine what success looks like to us. We may even need to start thinking differently.

Consider your new definition a point of no return. It’s like taking the red pill (watch The Matrix, younger folks). Once you know what really matters to you, you can’t keep pretending it’s something else.

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

I’ve spent a year getting coaching Itamar Marani and one of the things we worked on was really pinning down what kind of life I want to lead and how that translates to the things I need to achieve to feel successful. It was a great investment and I think getting coaching in general is a great way to ask yourself the questions that need to be ask. Just make sure you have someone who can call you out on your bullshit when needed.

I also read a lot of business and self-development books, spend a lot of time thinking and journaling, and actively seek out people who I can have these types of deep conversations with.

I believe success is a mix of many things: your values, your basic needs, your intellectual needs, your emotional needs, your interests, and so on. To define what success looks like for ourselves, we need to dive into all of these different areas of our lives.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can find out more about my writing services at https://letmewritethatdownforyou.com and check out my travel blog at https://wonderfulwanderings.com. I’m also active on Twitter: https://twitter.com/scouwenbergh

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