Michelle Elman on why your own definition of success is more important than reaching for specific milestones

Michelle Elman
By Michelle Elman,
updated on Oct 20, 2023

Michelle Elman on why your own definition of success is more important than reaching for specific milestones

The pressure to reach certain milestones by various ages, and comparing your path to others, can be extremely damaging to your self-esteem. But, as Michelle Elman shares in her perspective on turning 30, your own definition of success is far more important, and can shift with the changing landscape of your life

I recently turned 30 and, as with birthdays, there is often a reflective feeling where you evaluate how you are doing in life, potentially with some comparison to your peers. If you fail to hit the benchmarks you set for yourself, it can lead to a lot of worry, stress and, ultimately, not feeling very good about yourself.

I remember when I turned 24; it’s an odd age to have hooked milestones on to, but as a teenager, I always thought that at 24, I’d be married and have kids. I have had these goals since as early as I could remember, and therefore, understandably, I felt a little behind in where I should be.

But the truth is you can’t ‘fall behind in life’. Everyone has their own pace, and you can’t do life ‘wrong’. I could have focused on the lack of progress in my love life, or I could have looked at my life as a whole.

When I was younger, especially in primary school, I knew I wanted to be a mum one day, but what I didn’t know was what I wanted to do for a job. Yes, I might be behind when it comes to my love life, but I was far ahead of my peers when it came to career, and therefore making myself feel bad for lacking in one area, doesn’t take into account the bigger picture.

Six years on, I am much more balanced in my life. My love life has caught up, but also my career has slowed down. When you put more time and energy into one area of your life, understandably, there is less time and energy for other areas, and that is why I did turning 30 differently. Instead of using it as a measure of what milestones I have hit, and which I have not, I used it as an opportunity to reflect on how much I have been able to do – a lot of which would have been unthinkable to the inner child me. I took time to be grateful for the people in my life, and most of all for the time I have been given. Growing up in hospital, I am acutely aware that not everyone gets to make it to 30, and I feel immensely grateful given my bad luck in the health department to even be around and alive.

I’m excited to be in my 30s because I’ve realised that it’s OK for your definition of success to be different to everyone else’s. My definition of success changed when I was around 28 years old – a pandemic will do that to you. I didn’t want to be so busy any more, and my markers for success changed during a conversation with a woman I deeply admire and respect. She told me that one of her non-negotiables is that she picks her kids up at school every day at 3pm, and that no matter what, she is there. It spoke volumes to me about how she had her priorities in order, and that she was willing to give up jobs and opportunities in order to prioritise the people who matter.

Upon leaving that lunch, I reflected on whether I was doing the same, and I knew I hadn’t been. I was the kind of person who would cancel dates for last minute work opportunities, and I would often get to the end of the week too tired and exhausted to see my friends, because I had spent all my social energy on mindless small talk at work events throughout the week. As soon as we came out of the pandemic, I made a promise to myself that I would reprioritise my life, and turning 30 has been confirmation that I have done just that.

In a world that regards power, money, and career accomplishments as markers of success, it’s important that you check in with yourself once in a while and see whether these markers actually work for you, and whether they fit in with the life you are building. Look at where you are putting your time and energy, and ask yourself if it is fulfilling you. One of my own realisations is that if I didn’t make changes in my own life, my only memories of my 20s would be those of work, and that’s why I sought to gain more balance.

Give yourself permission to have your own timeline. Honour the timing of your life, and keep your eyes on your own road. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. Someone else succeeding doesn’t take away from your life, and what they covet might not be the same as your ambitions.

As we age, it’s also important to remember that you are allowed to change your mind. Getting older brings different perspectives, and if your priorities are different to what they once were, allow the version of you in your head to change, adapt, and be flexible.

Love Michelle x

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Michelle Elman

By Michelle Elman

Michelle Elman is a five-board accredited life coach, most known for her campaign ‘Scarred Not Scared’. Her new book, ‘The Joy of Being Selfish’, is published by Welbeck in February.

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