How to Re-Architect Your Life During a Setback

A Blueprint for Living Success With Less

Jennifer Merrell spent the first half of her life living her labels: “high-achiever” and “ambitious.” By her early 40’s, she added “hard worker” to the list. She embraced her identify and went all in, simultaneously holding leadership positions at work while never missing a workout or one of her kids’ events. Whether it was leveraging her limited PTO to volunteer on a field trip or being the team mom for the soccer team, she took pride in her ability to endlessly “run hard and fast”.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Jennifer Merrell smiles for the camera
Jennifer Merrell redefined success in the midst of a setback.

Rising Up and Falling Down: The 20’s

Jennifer discovered the pitfalls of defining yourself by your work when her spouse’s promotion prompted a relocation. Going from “high achiever” and “hard worker” to full time “mom” and “wife” left her feeling lost, disoriented, and directionless. She slowly began to question her previous accomplishments and slip further into despair and depression. “Was I really a success?” “Will I ever be successful again?”

The Juggling Act: The 30’s

Jennifer tried to quiet her inside voice and her nagging insecurities using her previous formula for success: over-commitment. She started her own Pilates business while juggling two elementary-aged children and a myriad of community commitments. Which worked temporarily. Until her “gut feeling” that something wasn’t right gave way to a full blown medical crisis. The search for a diagnosis for her gut health issue took her from doctor to doctor, misdiagnosis to misdiagnosis. Until an anaphylactic shock incident almost literally stopped her dead in her tracks. “Is this the price of success?” “Am I willing to pay this price to succeed?”

Mind Over Matter?: The 40’s

A divorce followed by mounting medical issues left Jennifer’s powerful drug of people pleasing powerless. Doctors were at a loss as she progressed from hair loss to memory loss to extreme weight loss, leaving Jennifer nearly paralyzed emotionally and physically. The only cure consistently prescribed: “Take a break from work and from life.” “But, who will take care of my kids?” “What if I lose my job?” “What if I never recover?”

Facing A Crossroads

Jennifer will never forget the day she found herself unable to walk, suddenly tied to a wheelchair. How was this once strong woman reduced from standing tall to unable to stand at all? From running races to rendered motionless? From “having it all” to “nothing at all?”

Re-Architecting Life for Success with Less

Are you tired from trying to “have it all?” How often are YOU on your calendar?

Jennifer knew there must be another way — a better way — to achieve success. As her body grew weak, her inner resolve grew strong. She pressed pause on her worries long enough to create a simple list. In one column, she listed all of her work skills then crossed off all the ones she found exhausting. In the other column, she listed the people and experiences that brought her joy in life. She merged the two columns into her “circle of joy,” to create an aspirational blueprint for her future life.

After a decade spent in turmoil, Jennifer felt her first sense of calm as she reviewed her new definition of success: more health, more joy, less chaos, fewer obligations.

She clung to that vision of “Success With Less” through finding the right doctor, a correct medical diagnosis, leaving a joyless job, and forgiving herself for the toll her previous definition of “success” had taken.

The Payoff For Living Success With Less

Are you doing more and enjoying less? What matters most to you right now? And how have your priorities changed?

Jennifer’s transformation is a great reminder that success is available to everyone, no matter what your circumstances are right now. The key, as Jennifer discovered, is defining what success means to you.

“Success is no longer defined by money or title or power for me. It’s no longer defined by how hard you work or how much you can achieve in a day,” Jennifer says. “Sometimes, success for me looks like leaving a networking event early to go home to bed. Sometimes, success looks like recognizing and praising myself internally that I chose to walk on the treadmill at Orange Theory instead of running because I’m feeling weak and need to listen to my body. Sometimes, success looks like choosing to spend time with family and friends instead of working on Sunday…..because it can be done on Monday. I have learned to do less, take on less, find joy, and re-architect boundaries that have made what I consider now, a very successful life. I have rich and deep relationships. I feel more. And I get to live. Success looks like less now, but I think it’s more.”

This post first appeared on Medium.

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