If you had asked me at age 18 what I thought success looked like, I would have said something about having a career in my field of study, living in a large city, and being happily married with kids.
I look back and chuckle, because now at 25, my priorities have changed so much. To be clear, I do want to do well in my career, get married, and have kids—very much so—but that’s not what I think success looks like.
When I was in college, my main goal was to prepare for the future by getting good grades—which are literally a measurement of success. So I drove myself into the ground trying to achieve this successful future.
I did get good grades—but at what cost? I nearly burnt myself out and I experienced a lot of stress. I started to question whether I was good enough or smart enough to be successful in life.
I became anxious about my future because it felt like my ability to achieve my vision of success was in jeopardy.
My unhealthy habits impacted my life beyond school. After graduation, I worked myself way too hard at my first job.
All the unnecessary stress and anxiety caused me to burn out. I didn’t allow myself to rest and ignored my mental health.
Then I spent a whole summer getting rejected from job interview after job interview. The same fear of failure that I had felt in school hit me hard, because I still so badly wanted to achieve the “perfect” life that I had imagined as an 18-year-old.
It wasn’t until I was at my lowest, mentally and spiritually, that I realized that success, whatever that looks like, can’t happen unless I’m taking care of myself.
I had to stop trying to find my worth in things like work, and instead believe that I was valued enough by God to already be worth taking time and space to heal.
Through allowing God to show me that my identity was in him and not in my achievements, I could let myself be human, in need of God’s molding—not who I think I need to be.
Slowly, I began to know joy despite my less-than-perfect circumstances.
To me, success now looks like daily self-care victories.
Success in self-care looks like turning to God when I’m feeling tired, anxious, or hopeless.
It looks like being honest with myself and others when I need help. And of course taking those important steps of getting help!
It looks like talking to a counsellor and dealing with my stress, past hurt, ADHD, and anxiety.
It looks like actually taking care of my entire self by listening to what it needs—physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
It looks like surrounding myself with people where love and care are mutual, and boundaries are respected.
One particular area of success has been in learning to take care of my ADHD brain. Having tools to manage my brain that are attainable, sustainable, and realistic is something that has helped me to not see my brain as a mess, but as something I need to take care of and nurture—which has changed the way I see myself and how God created me.
Read more of Abby’s story: How I connect with God with learning disorders
God sees me as his beloved daughter, which, in my opinion, is much more meaningful than a big title or impressive role. Instead of being “successful” in my original sense of the word, I would rather work on being a healthier person.
Then I can work hard in whatever God gives me to do.
Taking better care of myself has also made me have hope for my future, rather than anxiety about what’s to come. I don’t have to perform or achieve anything in order for God’s plan to fall into place in his time. Which is so incredibly freeing.
Turns out that there is so much joy just in living!
Ultimately, taking care of your entire being and knowing how loved you are by God is honestly, success! All of the other beautiful things that come with life are just the icing on the cake.