What is the definition of success? For many of us, the answer to this question shifted considerably in 2020. One thing is for sure, we know the path to success isn't linear, and it's definitely not a destination anyway. Success is multifaceted, it's different for everybody, and it fluctuates daily (even hourly!). For me, it's about ditching that elusive (and divisive) work/life balance motto or "having it all" mantra and embracing change—sitting comfortably in a state of flux and being okay with a moving target over a steady and reliable bullseye. In fact, being uncomfortable is where I feel myself being stretched and that's where the best creativity and growth happen. It's not always pleasant, but being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable is something I want to embrace wholeheartedly in 2019.
I think we're all tired of chasing perfection. Even though a part of me will always yearn for it, I've learned how destructive that can be both personally and professionally. Besides, it's in those messy and imperfect moments that we truly thrive and develop resilience and grit. All qualities that will get us through the hard times, and the good. So, as we enter 2020, we asked 19 interesting women one question: How do you define success?
Ahead, they share their definition along with how it has changed this year and what they think it means for women now.
Michelle Lee, Editor-in-Chief, Allure Magazine
Michelle Lee has had a phenomenal year. Since taking the helm of Allure magazine in 2015, she has truly started to shift the culture with her focus on diversity and featuring more women of color. She was crowned Adweek's editor of the year for her commitment to redefining beauty, which included her groundbreaking decision to stop using the term "anti-aging." We can't wait to see what game-changing moves she has up her sleeve for 2020.
"My definition of success has definitely shifted through the years. When I was younger, I was a bit of an achievement addict, viewing success like a ladder. I loved the high of climbing to the next rung (or skipping one) to get a new title or raise. Today, I look at it more like a mountain with lots of beautiful peaks and valleys that are all totally worthy of my time. It's easy to get caught up in the end goal of your career ("I want to be a CEO," "I want a high six-figure salary," etc). Then, somewhere along the way, I started to view work as an education. Money and title are important, and you should absolutely value yourself properly. But when you look at a role, think of it as a graduate degree, focusing on what skills you could learn, what important contacts you could make.
"Today, I define success as being able to execute on innovative, creative projects and improving personally all the time and having a life. Startup culture changed the paradigm of success for everyone. Now, we've seen that our future doesn't have to just be a slow slog up the corporate ladder and that we have the ability to craft the lifestyle and career that we find fulfilling."
Denise Vasi, Founder and EIC of Maed
After being the lead on the hit show Single Ladies, Denise Vasi hit pause on her acting career to raise her daughter, Lennox Mae, with her husband and director, Anthony Mandler. But that certainly doesn't mean she stopped everything. This year, Vasi launched her own lifestyle site, Maed cultivating a community of like-minded women (and moms) who want to improve their health and wellness and that of their children. And she hasn't looked back. In fact, you could argue Vasi is busier now than she was when she was acting.
"In my 20s, I defined my success by which acting gigs or modeling campaigns I booked, which is unfortunate, but I was young and didn't know what real success was. Now as a mother raising a little girl, my priorities are way different. I’m focused on fulfilling my real purpose, having an impactful encouraging influence on my little girl and other women and starting conversations that produce a change in our communities. Pivoting careers and launching my site Maed allows me to use my voice responsibly and positively, which has made me feel the most successful yet.
"All the work women have so tirelessly put in is finally paying off. Women today are louder than ever, and because of the success of campaigns like #MeToo and the most recent victories for women in politics, women are finally feeling heard. We still have plenty of more work to do, but if the way we're ending this year means anything, it means that 2019 is most definitely going to be an even bigger year for women."
Sophia Roe, Private Chef and Nutrition Expert
When we last interviewed Sophia Roe—and shared her delicious potato cilantro hash recipe—we learned that food isn't just about nourishing your body with the "right" ingredients—it's also a way to connect people. In a short time, Roe has fundamentally changed our relationship with food for the better with her joyful approach to cooking. Her conversations might start with food, but they are shifting the culture and connecting communities with every recipe or tip she shares. It's a powerful movement to watch.
"I think any woman who lives her life with solid conviction and a smile on her face is a successful woman. For many, success can be about how much money you make, how many people you have working under you, where you live, what car you drive, etc. I think success is simply doing what you love doing. Period.
"I remember thinking success was about how great my life looked. I thought that the only way to be 'successful' was to fulfill the traditional 'college, internship, work at a company' route. But it didn’t take me long to realize that none of those things were going to make me happy long-term. I wanted my own brand, business, a voice in an industry that was mostly dominated by men. But, honestly, all the hard work I’ve had to do to develop myself as a brand/voice has been a joy because it’s truly what I spend all my time dreaming about accomplishing and ultimately love doing. It makes me feel so happy. It never feels hard, if it’s truly what you want.
"I want all women to know that they can, in fact, be successful without doing work that they don’t like or doesn’t honor their dreams and desires. The mentality that there is only one way to be successful is completely dated. Confidence and passion are all you need to be successful."
Anine Bing, Co-Founder of Anine Bing
Without a doubt, Anine Bing is the most stylish successful woman on Instagram you want to follow. Not just for her insanely chic outfits (all from her eponymous brand), but for her incredible career trajectory too—her interior design style is also impossibly cool. The former model (and band member) just closed on a $15 million investment, which helped her open a slew of new boutiques including her tenth store in London—you should see inside her Pacific Palisades store too.
"Success to me means getting to do what I love on a daily basis and also being in a constant state of growth. I feel the most powerful in the design studio because I feel like I can bring my ideas to life but success also means growing and learning in areas I’m not so comfortable in. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can ask a million questions and learn from experts around me in areas of my business I don’t know everything about.
"I get to work with amazing, creative women on a daily basis. Having a company that is focused on women means that I get to surround myself with smart women and hear their thoughts—they are always inspiring. I’m so proud to be creating a community that lifts women up and gives them the tools they need to feel confident and ready to put their best foot forward.
"As our company grows, I have learned how important it is to take care of myself while I’m also trying to support everyone else in my life. I put my family and my business first so often, so I’ve had to focus on setting aside time for myself. Women are doing so much, I think it’s important to remind ourselves we also deserve a break and that doing everything perfectly isn’t always possible. I think it’s about making choices and prioritizing what matters most at that moment."
Randi Zuckerberg, Author, Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media
Randi Zuckerberg really needs no introduction. The best-selling author, founder, and CEO of Zuckerberg Media is a powerhouse. It's safe to say Zuckerberg is in the business of smashing glass ceilings but she doesn't want to sit in the corner office alone. In fact, Zuckerberg has made it her job to carve a path for the many female entrepreneurs to follow and join her at the top.
"We live in a world where women receive only 5% of venture capital funding, where only 26% of all STEM workers are women, and where women are still only earning $.77 of every dollar that men are. Because gender inequality still exists in business, education, and economics, success, to me, is inspiring as many women and girls possible to pursue their dreams and conquer statistics like these.
"To further my quest, last year I created an interactive, STEM-themed pop-up restaurant aimed at getting young girls interested in science and tech early. I’m happy to announce that this year Sue’s Tech Kitchen will have toured seven cities around the country, reaching more than 10,000 families. Another 2018 accomplishment of mine is once again making the New York Times bestseller list with my newest business book Pick Three, which follows my personal methods on how to bust the unattainable work/life balance myth. It gives women a healthy, realistic way to achieve their goals without the pressure of having it all.
"Since my personal success is aimed at breaking down doors that have been previously dead-bolted and impossible to enter, by the end of this year I will have given 50+ speeches on a keynote speaking tour—reaching hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs around the world. When 2019 rolls around, I can hold my head high knowing I’ve held the door open, encouraging and supporting women. But I also know that this is a job that’s never truly finished, so I look forward to many more successes to share in the New Year."
TyLynn Nguyen is a force of nature. The mother of three is a successful entrepreneur who runs her eponymous lingerie brand while being an influencer on the side. She has no limits and is challenging traditional stereotypes and having it all mantra head-on.
"As a mother of three, a designer, and now an influencer, my idea of success is shifting. For me, success has three layers. One layer is connection. Am I enjoying my work? Am I spending time with my children? Second would be spiritual. Am I feeling like what I’m doing is connected to God? Am I speaking and living my truth? And the last layer is monetary. Am I flourishing financially and reaching my full potential?
"Women now have the ability to define success for themselves, and 2020 is going to be a breakthrough year for so many. I expect many women will step into their power and find what works for them and define success on their own terms."
Justina Blakeney, Designer, Artist, Author, and Founder of Jungalow
You've probably seen Justina Blakeney's work even if you haven't heard of her name (which if you don't please follow her asap). Her book The New Bohemians is a New York Times bestseller and subsequently started a boho-chic revolution in the interior world. Now she designs and sells very cool furniture and décor out of her L.A.-based store, The Jungalow.
"For me, success is a moving target. I define it in different ways at different moments in my life. Right now I feel that success is almost synonymous with freedom. The more successful I become, the freer I am to do what I want, how I want, with who I want, when I want."
Adee Drexler, Founder and CEO of Infinity Creative Agency
Adee Drexler is the woman behind your favorite brand right now, you just don't know it. As the CEO of Infinity Creative Agency, she and her team shaping some of the biggest fashion labels today and the talent and creatives behind them.
"As 2020 approaches, my definition of success encompasses accomplishing not just professional goals, but personal goals as well. I work in an industry that I love. I’m my own boss. I love the constant hustle. It’s very gratifying to oversee a company with bicoastal offices and a team of savvy and forward-thinking (mostly) female executives.
"Many women share the same goals. At times, it might seem unobtainable to accomplish those personal and professional goals together, but you push harder to do both. Balancing a busy career and family isn’t always easy. The key is to strike a balance that works for you and speaks to your life. That balance shouldn’t be defined by anyone else’s view of success or perception of how life 'should be.'
"There’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes from making power moves in business. It’s even more enjoyable when I’m sitting next to so many strong female peers. Today, more than ever, I see powerful women in the driver’s seat of business. They’re making deals as CEOs and shot callers. That’s inspiring."
Alyce Tran, Creative Director and CEO of The Daily Edited
It's hard to believe that before she was running a successful accessories brand, Alyce Tran was working as an attorney. In an interview with MyDomaine, she told us how she jumped from law school to working for a supreme court judge and then to an international corporate law firm before taking the leap to start her own company. And she's never looked back.
"The definition of success for so many of us has shifted considerably. As we head into 2020, how would you define success? How has it changed for you? And what do you think it means for women now? I don't really think about 'success' per se but rather how I am feeling. If I am happy, then I feel I am successful, so I think it is more about an inner vibe rather than a career, family, or anything else you're meant to be doing."
Cortney Novogratz, Designer and Co-founder of The Novogratz
It seems like there's no stopping Cortney Novogratz. The popular interior designer is a best-selling author, founder of The Novogratz, and mother of seven children. On top of that, she was also a reality TV star (she was on Bravo's 9 By Design and HGTV's Home by Novogratz), with her husband, Robert, and between them they have 25 years of design experience. That's no mean, feat but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Success in 2019 for me is going to be strengthening my relationships. Relationships with my husband, Robert, my kids, my team at work, and of course my friends and extended family, etc. For years women have talked about finding balance and creating a work and home life that we can all juggle. We are constantly multitasking. I have one main focus this coming year and that is to feel closer, to have a deeper connection with the people I love dearly.
"I also happen to have several guys in my life, from my husband to my five sons, and more than ever I want to feel connected with them and also want to empower my two strong daughters. I can't control the country or the world for that matter, but I can control my relationships with those I care for. This sounds easy, but as a woman, we all have loads on our plate to juggle, so it isn't always so easy. Overall, my hope is to give more in 2020."
Cat Chen, Founder and CEO of Skylar
Before launching her own business, Cat Chen was vice president of operations at the Honest company. Now she is the founder and CEO of Skylar, a clean, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free line of perfume and scented candles.
"Success is such an interesting concept; as the definition changes and evolves as we grow. At the beginning of my career, I thought success was about how much money someone made and now, success in my mind has almost nothing to do with money. As I head into the New Year and think about my definition of success today, at the core, it is comprised of two simple things: family and passion. Keeping my family as my first priority, raising my daughter to be a good human, and crafting and enjoying the little and big moments in life together is a huge part of success for me.
"At the end of the day, family is my core driver for pursuing my dreams and achieving my goals, which brings me to my next key component of success: passion. Pursuing my passion wholeheartedly without letting anyone or anything get in the way defines success for me and hopefully for a lot of other people around the world. I have found my passion in Skylar and our ability to help thousands of women across the country, and if I can continuing to grow our community and the safe scent movement to thousands of more strong women throughout the world, then to me, that's a success.
"It's tough for me to say what success means to women now because I think your definition of success is incredibly personal and I encourage all women to define their own success by what is most important and meaningful to them. In my mind, the key to success is to own who you are and to go after what you want wholeheartedly. I wish that for all women in 2019 and beyond."
Edwina Forest, Co-founder and Creative Director of Aje
If you haven't heard of Edwina Forest, then we guarantee you've heard of her successful women's clothing line, Aje. The Australian former stylist (she worked at Russh magazine) founded the brand in 2008 and recently launched it in the U.S. to great applause.
"In our increasingly busy lives, where the goalposts for 'success' are constantly shifting, both personally and professionally, it’s important to acknowledge what is want and what is need. We all want for so much, but we don’t need much at all. To slow down, strip back, and simplify allows us to define what true success really looks like. Success has a different definition for everyone. For me, success in 2020 is about defining my needs, simplifying my life personally and professionally, and making time to disconnect in order to reconnect. I imagine many women probably want for the same."
Emily Henderson, Founder of Emily Henderson Design
Since she won HGTV Design Star, Emily Henderson has gone on to become an author (her book Styled is a New York Times bestseller), and founder of the hugely successful blog, Style By Emily Henderson. She has amassed a cult following and we're one of her biggest fans.
"Success is fulfillment, flexibility, and freedom. It's evaluating what is actually important to you, what do you place value on in your life and business, focusing on those things and letting go of anything you actually don’t care about. For me, it means growing the brand, which may or may not grow the business. It’s having freedom to spend time with my family and friends, and saying no to anything that doesn’t creatively fulfill me. I care less about my P and L than I do about engagement. It’s knowing that what you do makes a positive difference to others. It’s the freedom to able do what makes you happy, regardless of how much is in your bank account."
Nicole Centeno, Founder and CEO of Splendid Spoon
It's not easy starting a business with two small children to care for, but in 2013 with two kids under three, Nicole Centeno launched Splendid Spoon. The plant-based wellness plan of nutritious soups and smoothies has struck a chord with busy and stressed millennials who need a healthy solution at an affordable price.
"As I’ve gotten older, my definition of success has become a lot more about resilience because this is what really keeps me moving, and when I’m moving I’m learning, I’m optimizing, I’m achieving. For women now I think it’s really helpful to focus on how quickly we are bouncing back from challenges because big achievements and big wins are fraught with them."
Christina Stembel, Founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers
When Christina Stembel bootstrapped the launch of her direct-to-consumer floral delivery company, Farmgirl Flowers, she had no idea it would be so successful, but she knew she had a ton of grit and nothing to lose. Her hard work and passion have paid off. In 2018, the San Francisco–based company made $15 million in revenue, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
"I would define success much differently than I used to. If asked this question eight years ago, I would have responded with an immediate dollar amount. I probably would have said something to the effect of 'Success is building a billion-dollar company.' Period. But then again, back then I didn’t know what I didn’t know, which was a lot. Now I think about and define success very differently. I know more and to earn that knowledge, I’ve had to fall down repeatedly and get back up, over and over and over again.
"Each time I’ve failed, regrouped, and then moved forward, I learned that success isn’t actually an end result. It’s not the 'happily ever after' part of the movie. It’s achieved during the middle part when you face all the hard stuff and persevere through it, proving your grit and resilience. It’s when you’re making hard decisions that negatively impact your bottom line but are better for your team members and customers. It's when you’re backed against a wall and don’t know how you’re going to get through it and yet you find a way, all while leading your team with positivity and grace. It’s when you don’t think you can face one more obstacle without breaking, or go one more hour without sleeping, or hear one more person telling you what you 'should do' without exploding. And yet you do. That’s what success is to me now. Working through the hard things and coming out on the other side."
Jaclyn Johnson, Author and CEO of Create and Cultivate
By the time Jaclyn Johnson was 28 years old, she had already sold her first business and launched her now multimillion-dollar company, Create & Cultivate. Now, the Forbes 30 under 30 is one of the most powerful entrepreneurs to watch, empowering hundreds of thousands of women in the process with her nationwide conference.
"I think success needs to be defined on your own terms. If you look to outside sources (friends, media, the internet) for constant validation, you will never fill fulfilled. For me, success is defined by my place in the world. Do I have a job a love? Check. Do I have friends that I can call at any minute? Yes. Do I have a solid relationship with my family? Am I respected by my colleagues? These all play into my definition of success."
Pip Edwards, Co-Founder of P.E. Nation
Before she launched P.E. Nation, Australian creative, Pip Edwards was the mastermind behind the design at Ksubi (when it was Tsubi), Sass and Bide, and General Pants. Now Edwards is disrupting the fashion world once again with her new take on activewear.
"Success has different meanings for different individuals. While there always seems to be a money component attached to success, I believe the true essence of success is actually a feeling. A feeling that’s attached to loving what you do and doing what you love and doing it well and seeing the impact of what you do on others. It’s that feeling where work doesn’t actually feel like the grind because it’s such a part of who you are and who you actually want to be at work.
"Success for me is definitely linked to happiness and achievement in the workplace while achieving peace at home. When both of these are close to being in balance, that would be a true success. True success is when your purpose has impacted and made a difference to your community and the network around you.
"If you are in the flow of feeling good at work, then success naturally comes. Positive energy breeds positive results. I love what I do every single day, I love my team, I love our product, I love the meaning we give it and the results directly stem from this. Success for women is now about impacting and empowering other like-minded females, to encourage them that they too can do what they put their mind and passion towards. Passion is the essence. The passion with purpose."
Iva Pawling, Co-Founder of Richer Poorer
Iva Pawling is on a mission to elevate your everyday basics. Before launching Richer Poorer, she worked in PR at Kate Spade and helped Hawaii create its first fashion week. Now she's started a movement and despite being a mom of two, shows no signs of slowing down.
"Success is such an interesting concept that I think feels different to the person than how it is perceived by people looking in. My personal success is deeply tied to the development and satisfaction of my team at Richer Poorer. Yes, growing a business monetarily feels good and what most want to focus on, but what feels better to me is supporting individuals, giving them a place to learn and stretch themselves, and helping them balance their family responsibilities.
"Our leadership team is now 50/50 women to men, and we do all we can to support the parents in our office by giving them paid maternity/paternity leave, and additional schedule flexibility to be able to manage their families. Seeing our team continue to grow in both their professional and personal lives is what I am most looking forward to in the New Year.
"Personal footnote: If I can make it through another year believing I am not raising a**hole kids myself, that is a huge win."
Mia and Brittney Rothweiler, Co-Founders and Creative Directors of The Range
After years of working in the retail and production space, sisters Mia and Brittney Rothweiler joined forces with their good friend David Helwani to launch an elevated clothing line called The Range. They grew fast with an expanding online fanbase and sit on the covetable racks (offline and virtual) of prestigious boutiques like Elyse Walker, Kith, Ron Herman, Shopbop, and Intermix.
Brittney Rothweiler: "The definition of success has definitely changed for me as the years have gone by and as I’ve gone deeper into my career. It once meant more monetary or superficial things, but it now holds a deeper meaning to me. To me, success means being able to be the master of my own time. To be able to work where I want and when I want and what I choose to be working on, is my current measure of success. I myself am my hardest boss, so to have myself to answer to at the end of the day and to carve a path for myself and be the master of my time is what success means to be right now."
Mia Rothweiler: "For Brittney and I, our ultimate vision of success is freedom—having the freedom to work when and where you want and know when you’re most efficient, the freedom to create your own business and see the results of your hard work directly come back to you and the freedom to creatively build an independent world for yourself. This was our drive to start the businesses and go out on our own. As women, it’s so empowering to be able to create that for ourselves.
"In 2018, a successful day was just staying sane and trying not to drown in uncertainty and unfamiliarity of launching a business. In 2020, success will be to continue working hard and explore new areas of growth so that we can keep that freedom we love, but also being present and enjoying the process of building while remembering to celebrate the little victories along the way."