Once I defined success for myself, I started seeing real growth in my side gig and started seeing how I could turn it into a full-time job.
For six years, I worked as an adjunct psychology professor, while doing side gigs as a meditation teacher. I was passionate about the meditation work but felt pretty meh about adjuncting. The pay is dismal, and I was teaching the same introductory-level class over and over, which was mind-numbingly boring.
Last year, I decided to take a leap to see if I could teach meditation full-time. I knew I’d have to do some hustling. For the first six months, I decided to practice the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” method of work.
I reached out to studios, businesses, and anywhere I thought might be interested in having mindfulness classes. I created a corporate mindfulness program. I linked up with studios and wellness centers to create meditation courses for them. I taught at festivals, schools, parties, events, you name it… if it was a job, I took it. I did a lot of volunteering. My goal was to just get my name out there.
During this time I designed a website for myself and started making online content. I built an online meditation school with short courses for people to download, creating both free and paid content. I went hard on social media and did live meditations every Monday morning and during the spring I even did a challenge of 21 days of live morning meditations.
Burnout and overwhelm show up for me as resentment. When I started getting angry at studio owners that weren’t doing enough promotion and getting frustrated when I felt like my time wasn’t being appreciated, I knew I needed to take a momentary step back.
It had been fun, and I had learned a lot, but I knew it was now time to do an audit. I had tried a ton of stuff and I needed to take a hard look at what was working, and what wasn’t.
Money isn’t the only measure of success
At first, my only metric was money. Was I making enough money? What was bringing in the most money? I figured I’d just do more of whatever was making the most money. I did this for a bit but quickly realized that when I created content from a place of just trying to make money, it fell flat. It sounded trite and inauthentic.
When I teach in person, I teach from the heart, and I make deep connections with people. When I teach, I do it because I genuinely love helping people feel better. Plain and simple. It’s just not about the money. But I can’t make a living teaching a couple of classes a week. I needed to grow. In order to do this, I had to come up with an alternative way to define success. If it wasn’t going to be money, then what was it?
Begin with your heroes
I started by thinking about the teachers that I deeply respect. Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Lodro Rinzler, Thich Nhat Hahn… and many more. I asked myself, why do I consider them successful? It’s not because they’re rich. I realized that it’s because they are considered experts in their field.
One of my most beloved teachers, Daeja Napier, has no social media, no website, and lives entirely off of donations from her students. She resides in Oregon and has lived this way while raising four children, her entire adult life. When I asked her if there was a way to access her teachings outside of just seeing her in person she said jokingly, “well, I never got around to writing that book that Shambala keeps asking me for…”
I was stunned. Getting published by Shambala is a huge accomplishment for a meditation teacher! And the fact that they were begging her to write a book was amazing. I understand why she hasn’t because she lives purely in the present, it’s why she’s such an incredible teacher. But nonetheless, I consider that a success, having publications or publishers reach out to you. People requesting your take, because they see you as an expert.
At this point in my career, I don’t have to become an expert. After spending 20+ years researching and then teaching psychology I would say I’ve got that covered. (Although I never stop learning!) And after rigorous self-study and research into mindfulness and meditation for almost 10 years I’d say I’m pretty good there too. So, if my measure of success is to be considered an expert by others, how will I know when it’s happened? I decided to look at times that people have approached me.
Define success your way, then look for examples of it in your life
So when I did my audit, I asked myself when did this happen? When did people approach me for work? Three examples came to mind. And I was able to trace those back to specific work that I had produced.
After taking stock of these times I was approached, I started to see more clearly the benefits of the different types of work that I was doing. I now had a way of measuring the usefulness of the various tasks. Things started to become a little less hazy.
Rather than looking at 20 different income streams and only comparing them by the amount of money they made, I had another way to pit them against each other. And this helped me see where I needed to focus my energy.
When I defined what success was for ME, the goals to get me there became a LOT more clear.
How do YOU define success?
If you can personally define success, then you will have a clearer roadmap. Ask yourself, “how will I know when I’ve made it?”
Maybe your definition of success is the freedom to travel. Maybe it’s to own a million-dollar company. Maybe success to you is an auditorium full of people listening to you, maybe it’s a TED talk.
There should be no judgment in how we personally define success. If you are living according to someone else’s pre-defined measure of success no matter how hard you work, you will feel unfulfilled. What works for someone else just won’t work for you.
Also, this end goal can change, this doesn’t have to be the goal forever. Maybe by the time you get that TED talk, you’ll have a whole new definition of success! What this will help you do is craft a plan.
When I looked at all the different work that I was doing, I asked myself of each gig, is this getting me closer to being considered an expert in my field? If the answer was no, I tossed it.
Take the time to define success for yourself. Audit the work that you are doing, and see what is getting you closer to that picture, and focus your energy there.