Defining Success On Your Terms

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When I was a child, my parents led me to believe that success looked like learning my times tables, following the rules, and being polite to strangers.

When I was a teenager, success looked like making straight A’s, steering clear of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, and guarding my virginity until I got married.

When I was a medical student and resident, my professors led me to believe that success looked like showing up early, staying late, sacrificing my personal needs for the needs of my patients, coming to work when I was sick, prioritizing my work over my family or friends, overdelivering, curing patients without ever screwing up, and helping out my fellow residents, even if it was long past when I wanted to go home.

When I was a practicing physician, my colleagues led me to believe that success looked like a schedule full of patients, 72 hour call shifts during which I worked my ass off without ever making mistakes, efficiency in the exam room so I could blow through 40 patients a day, billing enough to bring in my fair share of revenue, perfection in the operating room, the adoration of my patients, a six figure income and a house with an ocean view, and being voted among San Diego’s Top Doctors.

When I was forging ahead in my art career, people led me to believe that success looked like being represented by many galleries, getting my art shown in museums, big ticket art sales, and name recognition for my work.

Now I work in an industry where there’s no limit to the amount of external success you can achieve – books, blogs, online programs, public speaking, conferences, magazine articles, television talk shows – the big leagues.

In the past, I let other people define success for me. But this time around, I’m committed to doing it differently.

Success On My Terms

My new motto is “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Just because I can publish 20 books doesn’t necessarily mean I should.

Just because I’m invited to speak at a big conference doesn’t mean I should say yes.

Even if the opportunity to host my own TV show arises, it doesn’t mean doing so is necessarily aligned with my priorities.

But… I can’t create the life I dream of living unless I know what success on my terms looks like. So let me take a stab at it…

Success looks like feeling how I want to feel. 

My core desired feelings (hat tip to Danielle’s LaPorte’s Firestarter Sessions) are to feel connected, influential, generous, and easeful. Every opportunity that comes my way – even ones others might deem “successful” – gets screened through that filter. Will it make me feel connected to loved ones and Source? Will it lend me influence so others will hear my message, and if I shine a spotlight on other people doing great work in the world, will people listen? Will it allow me to take all my friends out to dinner and when the bill comes, say “It’s on me?” And most importantly, will it feel graceful, effortless, eggy and playful?

Success looks like making the world a better place.

I dream of healing health care, opening hearts, training doctors to reclaim their true nature as healers, helping people tap into the truth of their Inner Pilot Lights, inspiring them to cleanse their bodies, minds, and souls, helping people find their callings, aiding visionaries who long to change the world, mentoring those who will help me make the world a better place in their own unique way, writing and speaking about what matters to me, and raising funds for charities I support.

Success looks like following a calling and fulfilling a mission.

After years of floundering around, I now know what I’m here on this earth to do, and I will devote myself to serving that calling – but only on my terms. Success does not look like writing New York Times bestselling books, reaching millions of people with my message, influencing how people think and act, and fulfilling a dream, only to realize I’ve missed the whole point.

Success looks like prioritizing those I love above achievement.

Last year, I turned down the opportunity to appear on Good Morning America because I had been away from my daughter all week, promising I’d be all hers during her Spring Break. Then Good Morning America called the day before our ski trip and asked me to fly to New York. I said no. My daughter is more important.

Success looks like living from a place of trust, not fear.

I don’t want to say “Yes” just because I’m afraid it’s my one and only shot.  I want to trust that if saying yes requires me to sacrifice my priorities, the opportunity will arise at some future point, God willing.  Good Morning America never did call me back (yet), but I don’t have a single regret.

Success looks like making room for self-care in my life.

Almost every day, I hike or do yoga. I meditate for 20-30 minutes. I drink 4-5 green juices per day.  I treat myself to spa days and retreats at hot springs resorts. I devote whole days to being with friends in my inner circle. I prioritize quality time and physical intimacy with my husband.  I read with my daughter. I take long baths. I get pedicures. I won’t sacrifice these things for any amount of money, fame, or kudos. Period.

Success looks like allowing myself to be a vessel for Divine work in the world.

Success is not unbridled ambition. It’s allowing myself to be used, to be of service, to fully self-actualize, to lift up my gifts and talents so they may be utilized for Divine work in the world. When I first met Martha Beck, she said, with delight in her voice, “You’re one of us – a stealth agent for God!” If I am, that looks like success to me. 

Success looks like spending a lot of time in nature.

I already live in a small coastal town in the San Francisco Bay area in West Marin County, where the mountains and the redwoods meet the ocean. Success does not look like being on airplanes too much or stuck in big cities or inside closed walls all the time, tied to a computer. Success looks like dancing under a full moon, skiing down a mountain slope, wading in the crystalline waters of a Bali beach, soaking in hot springs under the stars, and frolicking in fields of wildflowers.

Success looks like deep intimacy.

I’m not satisfied with lots of superficial relationships. I’d rather have a smaller number of super intimate ones. I value being brave enough to be vulnerable with the precious beings in my inner circle. I treasure the talks I have with my seven-year-old about how she used to be a fairy and why she decided to choose me as her Mama. I cherish the deep inner work I do with my mentoring clients and the doctors in the Whole Health Medicine Institute. When I get to witness the Inner Pilot Lights of others and have my Inner Pilot Light witnessed in return, I feel whole.

Success looks like staying in integrity with myself.

I recognize that integrity is very personal, and it’s never black and white.  I view it as a spectrum from 0% integrity to 100% integrity, with 0 being “total sell out” and 100 being “impeccable integrity.” Success looks like staying mostly over 80% aligned with my own unique definition of integrity and never, ever going below 50%.

Success looks like easeful, graceful, eggy financial abundance.

I spent too many years giving until I was depleted, failing to value myself enough or set clear enough boundaries to charge what my time was worth. Then I declared to fill myself first and everything shifted. Now, the comfortable income I generate allows me to be generous with others (back to one of my core desired feelings.) And it allows my husband and I freedom from anxiety about how the bills will get paid and how I’ll continue to fund the work I do at no cost in the world through the Daily Flame, my blog, and

But I’m no longer willing to “sperm” my way to financial abundance. If it doesn’t flow in easily, it’s not meant to be mine. And I’m unwilling to push, strive or strong-arm my way to “make it happen” anymore. Nope. That’s not success on my terms. On my terms, money flows in generously and effortlessly, and the more I believe this, the more the Universe conspires to prove to me that it’s true. 

Success looks like being sovereign.

Nobody owns me. I am never a victim of my circumstances. I have no right to bitch and moan about anything in my life – ever – because I always get to choose how I respond to my circumstances, even if my circumstances are beyond my control. I am responsible for and in charge of my life, even as I cede control to the Universe (my choice to let go of the reins and trust.) Success looks like owning my choices and claiming my life as my own. Success does not look like being a prima donna, but it does look like being brave enough to stand before those who might think they know what success looks like more than I do – and to stay true to who I am and what I care about.

Success looks like beauty.

I love creating beautiful art, surrounding myself with beautiful design, wearing beautiful clothes, immersing myself in the beauty of nature, relishing the beauty of gourmet food arranged beautifully on a plate, and living in a beautiful home. Life is to be relished, savored, appreciated.

Success looks like being a student for life.

If I ever think I’ve learned all there is to learn, I’ve stopped being successful. I will be taking workshops, reading books, studying, and satisfying the kind of intense curiosity that led me to research and write Mind Over Medicine for the rest of my successful life. As I write this, I’m on an airplane, heading to New York City to speak at the Hay House I Can Do It Ignite conference with inspirational colleagues like Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Cheryl Richardson, Doreen Virtue, Kris Carr, Gabrielle Bernstein, and Anita Moorjani. These people are my teachers in this course called life. Success looks like surrounding myself with inspiring people.

Success looks like fully self-actualizing.

No longer will I wear masks, pretending to be something I’m not so I’ll appear perfect to others. Success looks like being unapologetically ME, even as I strive for continual self-improvement. Success look like fully expressing my gifts in the world, being authentic, and being brave enough to be completely vulnerable and imperfect with those I trust.

Success looks sexy.

Success doesn’t require that I sell out the sexy and feminine within me in order to appear “professional.” In fact, success embraces all the fluid, curvy, hip-swaying, pole-dancing, bump-and-grinding, skinny-dipping, thigh-high boot-wearing parts of me.

Success looks like FUN.

My old story – success looks like sacrifice. My new story – success is FUN and playful. Success involves a great deal of pleasure, laughter, touch, good food, adventures, and checking things off my bucket list. Hot air ballooning, here I come! 

Success looks like inner peace.

No matter how many generous acts I perform, no matter how much I make the world a better place, no matter how much money I earn or how much fame I achieve, no matter how many people I love, who love me in return, it doesn’t really matter if I’m plagued with turmoil.  Success looks like freedom, wisdom, and deep abiding joy. 

I’m Not There Yet, But I’m There

When I look at this list, I realize I still haven’t fully achieved the success I dream of achieving, mostly because I’m still learning and growing and figuring out my life. But that doesn’t mean I’m not “there” yet. As I wrote about here, I finally realized that there is no “there,” that there is only here, and that right here, right now, I love my life and I celebrate the present moment, while simultaneously setting intentions that everything on this list will come to pass in its own perfect time.

Clarity is key. We can’t create success on our own terms if we let someone else define success for us. And we can’t create success on our own terms if we don’t know what it is.

What Does Success Look Like To You?

Tell us how YOU define success so you can create it for yourself.

Standing fiercely for success on our own terms,

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