There’s an underground epidemic going on in our society, and I’d like to talk about it since it’s impacting many people’s ability to see money for what it truly is – a tool to support your life.

Too many people are working too hard to chase success and in the end, they are still miserable.  As we run the proverbial rat race and try to keep up with the elusive “Jones’ ” we have a tendency to define our success based on how much money we earn and even worse than that, we compare what we earn to what other people earn.  The end result?  We never feel good enough about where we are in our life or who we are.  This is happening to many people, including people who are earning 6-figures and are therefore in the top 10% of income earners.  I know because I see it in almost every one of my clients and in the “money confessionals” I hear very often.

It’s time to start redefining success in our culture and on our own individual terms.  Why bother to work so hard if the outcome of that work is making you miserable?  Life’s too short, it’s time to reevaluate and get off the hamster wheel of life.

How do I know all of this?  I used to be running at the front of the rat race, working a job that paid me well but I was miserable doing it.  And bless their hearts, I have a lot of extremely talented friends and colleagues who work hard every day to move themselves forward and they come home empty, exhausted and miserable every day after trying to work harder and earn more money in roles that don’t suit them well at all.  For me, this felt like I was a square peg trying to shove myself in a round hole – I didn’t fit and deep down I knew it.  I was meant to do something else, and each day I chose not to seek that “something else” I was losing a part of my soul.  I felt stuck though because how could I ever leave my high-paying job and a career I had invested almost 12 years in?

Many people say that they have no choice but to stay in their jobs given “the economy.”  To me, that’s a bunch of crap.  Yes, it’s not easy right now in the job market and I wouldn’t suggest that you give caution to the wind and just quit your job.  But I will suggest that you consider making a huge mental shift from reactively accepting what’s in front of you (what I call living life by default) and instead become more proactive in moving yourself toward greater happiness (what I call living life by design).  If you truly hate your job and/or simply want to be doing something different, what are you doingright now to take a step toward fixing that (even if it’s a small step)?

Start with what you can control.  You can make it a priority to set aside time to gain control of your finances to build a strong financial foundation that gives you freedom and choice in the event that another role that’s better suited to you comes along (but that perhaps pays a bit less).  You can set aside time to think about what you do want instead of spending so much time on what you don’t want.  Because when you keep thinking about what’s wrong with your life, all you’re doing is attracting more of the bad stuff toward you – remember the basic principle of “like attracts like”?

As I’ve done my own work on redefining success, I’ve done 3 key things that have helped to fundamentally shift how I view my own success. My hope is that by sharing them with you that you’ll find at least one way that will be helpful for you to start seeing success as being more than about your paycheck!

1)     Find or create a definition of success that makes YOU happy:  According to my trusty dictionary, “success” and “successful” can be officially defined in a few ways:

Success (noun): 1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. 2.a. The gaining of fame or prosperity. B. The extent of such gain. 3. One that is successful.

Successful (adjective): 1. Having a favorable outcome. 2. Having obtained something desired or intended. 3. Having achieved wealth or eminence.

Now I tend to like the definition of success as “the achievement of something desired, planned or attempted”.  Setting goals is healthy and can help to keep you focused on learning and growing.  However, sadly enough society tends to lean heavily on the more financially-oriented definitions of “gaining fame or prosperity” and “having achieved wealth or eminence.”

For me, I’ve considered many different definitions of success over the last few years, and I’ve concluded that success for me is really a state of mind and that I get to decide what my goals are and how I’ll work to achieve them.  That’s one way I think of success, and yes – sometimes I am financially rewarded for working toward a goal and I enjoy that.  However, my favorite all time definition of success comes from Paulo Coehlo:

“What is success? It is being able to wake up every morning with your soul at peace.”

It’s taken a really long time to get there and a lot of personal work, but I can finally say that each morning I wake up at peace.  I’m no longer a square peg in a round hole whose spirit feels dampened – I’m one of few who get to do what I love for a living.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that I was brave enough to realize I am more than my paycheck.

2)     List 50 ways that you are successful that have nothing to do with money: This is an awesome exercise that I just recently completed for myself after a colleague suggested it.  I’ve got to be honest, I struggled after the first 10-15 ways but I stuck with it and ended up with a big smile on my face.  It was peaceful and liberating to see the other ways that I evaluated my success – I am authentic and real; I am an AWESOME aunt to my two adorable nephews; I am well-spoken and communicate effectively and efficiently; I use my skills and abilities to help others build a strong financial foundation and begin to create their own personal economies; I live in (and with) integrity.

3)     Get your financial affairs in order to stop the fear:  Ultimately, we are all human and need to know that we are safe and secure before we can consider making any major changes in our lives.  One of the ways that my clients and people I talk with feel unsafe is that they feel financially unstable and/or financially misaligned with how they are using their money.  However, I typically find that once people have a financial plan that helps them to align how they use their money with what matters to them that the financial chaos and resulting fear in their lives disappears.  They’ve taken control back of their lives, and they have a complete understanding of their resources and opportunities to start moving forward.

In the end, redefining success on your own terms can have a tremendous impact on how healthy your relationship is with money.  You are not just how much you earn, you’re more than your paycheck and you’re a divine creation who was put on earth to contribute in your own way like no one else can.  Your only job is to reflect on how it is that you’re meant to contribute with your unique skills and abilities, and to break through your barriers to true success!

This article originally appeared on Financially Authentic.

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