Editor’s Letter: How The Meaning of Success Has Changed For Me Over Time  

Travelista Editor Jessica Ruth Gibson takes a deep dive into the fluid meaning of success and how this has changed for her over the years. 

This is a piece I’ve wanted to sit down and write for some time. It’s a topic that I find fascinating, and one I always love to ask people. ‘How do you define success?’ Or ‘What is the meaning of success to you?’. These questions are open to endless perspective and interpretation, so let’s begin.

How Do You Define Success?

The Meaning Of Success In My Teenage Years

As a teen I don’t think I really gave the actual notion of success too much thought, but I definitely considered things like career options, what qualifications I’d need to do to get those jobs and that I wanted to be a Mum. As a teen, I had ideas of becoming an actress or a journalist. The thought of being in the world of media excited me to no end, especially after completing an internship at ITV Studios in London. I certainly never thought that my career would become at all compromised by actually becoming a Mum.

The funniest part is that I also saw my mid 20’s as a distant, futuristic place in which I’d most likely be married with 2 kids by 25 (as well as thriving in my unscathed media career).

For perspective, I’m almost now in my mid 30’s, I’m still not married and I don’t have 2 kids. Does that mean I am unsuccessful? Let’s continue…

The Meaning Of Success In My Early To Mid 20’s

I take great comfort in knowing that on my deathbed – I will be able to say that I truly lived in my 20’s. It was a full-throttle time in my life filled with fun, travel, multiple jobs, falling in love (multiple times), all-round-silliness and very few responsibilities. 

I spent a large part of my 20’s in London. My jobs were based in Mayfair and Belgravia; where there was money everywhere you looked. I worked within a business development agency for luxury brands, followed by a private member’s dining club. I always ended up in roles that surrounded me with people much older and more established than myself. Naturally, that also meant they had a lot more money than me. So in my eyes, they were successful. At that time, they were my hallmarks of success.

I think this environment definitely moulded the meaning of success to be primarily based on wealth, status and material possession. But looking back, I know that some of these people had a terrible work / life balances, were going through divorces or frequently eluded to being unfaithful to their spouse. They smoke and drank like there was no tomorrow, which looking back were probably coping mechanisms for the intensity and pace of their day-to-day lives.

I learnt a lot from these people, some of which were great mentors to me, but looking back I don’t think they had truly found success on every level of life. 

The Meaning Of Success In My Late 20’s

The biggest shift around the notion of success came in my late 20’s and coincided with the life-changing experiences of becoming a Mum followed by living through a global pandemic. My arrival into motherhood was not easy, with my son being born prematurely at 25 weeks. The trauma of the birth followed by over 3 months in hospital had a huge impact on my mental health. For the first time, and almost overnight, the notion of success had absolutely nothing to do with my bank balance or job status. The dream and goal of eventually bringing my baby home became my whole world and truly nothing else mattered. What a heart-wrenching, grounding and humbling experience this truly was. 

The day I did bring my son home felt like the greatest success of my life; as if we’d just reached the summit of Everest. But just over a year after bringing my son home, Covid turned the world upside down and there suddenly felt like a new challenge of survival, not just for my vulnerable son but also for me. 2020 and the pandemic really stripped us all of life’s luxuries and forced us to go back to basics.

If you had your physical health, a safe and secure home to isolate in, an income and food in your fridge, you’d pretty much won the lottery of life. That was all the success you could ask for during that time. Practicing daily gratitude was a hugely impactful coping mechanism for me during this time.

My world, as well as everyone else’s’, became a whole lot smaller in 2020 and suddenly success meant survival in its most primitive form. 

The Meaning Of Success In My Early 30’s

It wasn’t until I hit 30 that I began to consciously evaluate the meaning of success and what it means to me. I began to try and work out the priorities in my life and the type of life I truly wanted to live, by design. I was aware I had gone from two extremes; firstly linking success to only money and material possessions, to secondly linking success to a healthy baby and basic human survival. So what does success mean to me now that I have so much more lived experience and I’m in my early 30’s?

Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

Bob marley

This quote perfectly sums up the way I now view success. You can be rich in so much more than money, and those are the things that are far more likely to bring you true happiness. 

This is how I now view success; 

Success means being rich in time. This to me means working smarter, not harder. It means casting aside the traditional concept of working 9-5 hours. It means having a job that is flexible enough for me to do the school runs and be at the school plays. It’s a job where I can take a random day off to myself ‘just because’.

Success means being rich in love – and not just romantic love. Having a support network is so important to me, especially now I am a single parent. My friends and family mean everything to me and after the pandemic I think we can all understand how hard life feels when this is taken away from us.

The quality of your relationships determine the quality of your life. 

ESTHER PEREL

Success means being rich in health. Another thing that the pandemic taught us is that health truly is wealth. Without it, we have nothing at all. Success is having a healthy body that you can move and train and feel strong in. Success is having the means to invest in your health, both mentally and physically. 

Success means being rich in financial independence. This to me means having the financial security to support myself and my son and comfortably run the house we live in. Money cannot make you happy, but it can certainly make life easier. Having money means having choices. It means you are able to outsource work tasks or domestic responsibilities that allow you to spend more time doing what you love. It also means you can spend more money on looking after your wellbeing, allowing you to live a longer, healthier and happier life. 

I don’t want money so I can spend it on flash cars or designer handbags. I want money so that I can improve my quality of life. 

5 Ways I Would Spend My Money To Improve My Quality Of Life and Feel More Successful

Here are a few examples of things I would rather spend my disposable income on, before blowing it on material things;

  • A cleaner so that I can spend weekends having quality time with my son instead of cleaning my house whilst he watches TV 
  • A counsellor or therapist to keep my mental health in check and help organise my often cluttered and often overwhelmed mind 
  • Outsourcing areas of my business that are not my strengths, being aware that my time could be better spent focusing on areas of the business that I excel in
  • A monthly massage, which would be seen as a non-negotiable form of self care, rather than a luxury 
  • A gym membership so that I have access to a community and a place to exercise and work outside of my home 
  • Contributing to a savings account every month, described by Female Invest as a ‘F You’ fund, so that you are protected for any unexpected eventualities in life 

This list isn’t a brag about the things I do have, it’s a list of goals I am aiming to have. But whilst it’s great to have goals, I’m aware it’s also important to take stock of what you have already achieved and remember to give yourself credit for that. 

The main takeaway of this piece is that the notion of success is open to interpretation. There isn’t one set way it has to look, and for me this has changed over time.

As cliche as it sounds, I think true success has to start internally rather than projected externally or materialistically. Once you can define your own version of success, you are far more likely to meet it and achieve it. I still have a long way to go, but I finally feel I know how to get there and what is important to me.

There are 1,000 different ways to define success – so how does it look for you? 

Find more inspiring articles like this in our Career section.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

2 Comments

  • This is so true Jess. Success comes in many forms and can mean different things to different people. Like you said, having a roof over your head, a fridge full of food and a comfy bed to sleep in truly are the lotteries of life. My friends make me feel successful because they’re always rooting for me in whatever I do. Xx

Leave a comment

Travelista is an online publication and community for the adventurous modern woman covering travel, style, family, home, career and wellbeing.