Success is defined differently by everyone. For me, professional success and personal success intertwine to provide my life with purpose, excitement, and fun. After 25 years at Hormel Foods and almost 35 years in the food industry, I’ve learned which strategies and principles point me toward my truest sense of success, and by sharing them here, I hope to inspire others to discover their own.

Working Where Joy and Curiosity Collide

Much of my career satisfaction and personal sense of success comes from working in a field I love. From the very beginning, I found joy in food. I spent much of my time around the family dinner table in Los Angeles, taking in the aromas and flavors of traditional New Mexican cuisine. Sharing a meal was at the foundation of our gatherings, and I loved being a part of it. Also in those early years, my father was diagnosed with diabetes, sparking an academic interest in nutrition that went above and beyond my emotional connection with food.

By following this overlap between my personal passion for food and my intellectual curiosity about its effects on our bodies, I found a career path that keeps me engaged and fulfilled to this day. I began by becoming a registered dietitian, diving deep on food’s connection with our health, and have since moved on to tackling the entire process of its production and combating food insecurity in our country. As my curiosities evolved, so did my professional pursuits. Not every interest will fit into your career plan and not every passion needs to turn into a job — find where they overlap at each stage of your life and move toward it.

Learn to Juggle, Not Balance

Women in the workplace are often told to find a “balance” between our personal and professional lives. I’ve found this to be an unrealistic expectation, and encourage my fellow employees to forget the balance, and instead learn to juggle. When juggling, many balls are in the air, but you only hold one in your hands at a time. Perfection is unattainable for anyone, no matter what their career or life circumstances. All you can do is your best with the one ball in your hands, then throw it up, let go, and focus on the next one coming your way. Whether it is something in your personal life or a work project, each “ball” deserves your undivided attention — being fully present is success in itself.

The good news is you don’t have to juggle alone! For me, true leadership is about delegating and giving others freedom to play their own role by providing clear instruction and constructive feedback. I like to think of leadership as a side-by-side activity, working with, not over, my coworkers. Fostering this team dynamic not only ensures the juggling balls are evenly distributed across my team, but creates a culture of respect and autonomy in which everyone can thrive. 

Dedicate Time To What Matters

As I juggled more responsibility at work and with motherhood, I learned to be discerning and decisive about how and with whom I spent my time. Defining my priorities and sticking to them without apology continues to be one of the most important aspects of my personal and professional sense of success. I believe spending time on yourself and the things that bring you satisfaction and fulfillment outside your job makes you not only a better person, but a better employee.

I wake up at 4:45am every day to dedicate time to what gives me peace and energy. Those first 45 minutes are spent doing yoga, getting inspired or staying connected with loved ones on Instagram, and planning out my priorities for the day. While early mornings are not for everyone, it is important to carve out a small bucket of time for yourself every day. Sometimes this will mean giving up long-standing habits, even relationships that no longer serve you. Letting go of those things allows you to say yes to spending time on what makes you the most authentic (and successful) version of yourself.

Looking back, I feel lucky to have worked with some amazing coworkers and mentors at Hormel Foods who have inspired me to find my own definition of success and shown me through example what it means to live and work well. For me, success is not a destination to reach. It is finding a natural way of operating that involves heart, boundaries, and determination — and living that way everyday, regardless of where you are in your career or your life.