Rewriting the Definition of Success

Real trail is made by digging away the bush wood, not by gazing through already paved paths.

Since really early age, encouraging women was quite important topic for me. I become extremely passionate about it, especially when I recognized many mechanisms of self doubt or lower confidence in myself. My luck was I’ve realized at some point, I just love solving problems, especially math and science ones. I’ve felt this deep satisfaction during learning about the natural or social phenomena and that gave me the strength to stand against or in spite of inner impostor voice or society stereotypes and prejudices.

To give a bit of background, I am a woman with Electrical Engineering degree, working as a Data Scientist in the airline industry. My early education started in the class specialized for mathematics, science and programming and I was the international competitor in physics. Long story short, I was and still I am one of those girls always surrounded by guys, both during education and professional career.

It would be fair to say that most of the times, I was just too excited about the problems and solutions to worry whether my skill set or intellectual capability is enough.

This apparently made me look very fierce and independent.

I’ve felt really good when I had the opportunity to inspire other girls to start to enjoy problems, to be comfortable with not knowing, with not being perfect and especially to embrace mistakes as growth opportunities. When asked about feminism, that was feminism for me.

But during these years, I’ve encountered many different interpretations and versions, more or less mature, of what feminism is. My impression is that there is a huge tension to stress the fact that we (women) can do everything alone, that we don’t need a man anymore and that we are intellectually and physically capable of going through life. Indeed, job opportunities brought financial independence while slowly increasing number of female executives and board members is paving a way for younger colleagues. It seems like we are closer to creating our way to succeed, but we haven’t had many thoughts about redefining what really, from female perspective, success is.

Recently, I’ve participated at the Next Generation Women Leaders Event organized by McKinsey. This event was inspirational on so many levels. It was one of the main drivers to publish these thoughts which I have had for a while. I’ve met so many extremely successful, smart, diligent, charismatic and hardworking women.

I really don’t think that words strong enough to recommend this event exist, so I will just leave link and give you a piece of advice: Apply, it will change your life.

When talking about success, financial power and influence are often seen as a first pillars. Renunciation from many things, including emotional investments in building deep friendships and meaningful partnerships is highly coupled with the image of successful.

What I have seen for these three days at the event is the opposite. All of the brilliant female speakers besides having interesting and inspiring professional stories were very proud and eager to mention they are caring daughters, mothers and wifes. What was very fascinating for me, was not just their company level or boundaries they’ve pushed in the emerging economy countries. It is the fact that they are living their own definition of success. They’ve shared amazing stories about the importance of staying true to your own values and your own identity.

Not just they didn’t want to conform with the rules written by someone else, but they took a pen and rewrote those rules.

This brings me back to the modern interpretation of feminism. It seems to me that somehow economic independence, more professional opportunities and personal freedom is mixed with gender equality and idea of being successful. Being strong doesn’t necessarily mean you need to lose your femininity. Being independent is not about doing everything alone. Being successful doesn’t imply you should adopt male leadership style.

In contrary true gender equality means that difference between genders exists, it is cherished and admired, it’s used as true merit and real asset. Fighting for gender equality by losing diversity which feminine energy brings is not fighting. It actually giving up.

I would like to emphasize the importance of realizing which kind of success we really want and whether the current behavior is leading us to that outcome. From my personal experience, I think that being healthy, able to connect with nature, being emotionally engaged with family, friends and partner and being professionally positioned in a place where I can create a value with my knowledge and experience is a success. When defined in such words, I don’t feel the urge to neglect or tame the femininity. Because it’s not a downside, it’s something which helps me to keep all things mentioned in balance. I particularly enjoy the fact that I have always been looked as a girl but respected as intellectual human being. At the same time, I’ve never felt that due to the gentle appearance or energy, I was pushed from the project or estimated as I can’t take the pressure.

Let us be reminded that uniqueness and diversity are superpowers, not an obstacles. We can and should fight for gender equality, but without becoming the same.

Rushed by life style, competitive surroundings, self doubts or emerging opportunities, one can easily forget “why” behind the actions.

It is crucial to find a time, energy and focus to reflect and understand the essence of wish to be successful and to craft your own definition of success. Only when we understand our intrinsic values, we can set up the actions. Once when values and actions are aligned, one is satisfied and happy.



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Ljubica Vujovic

Ljubica Vujovic

Math and coffee lover, passionate for data science and encouraging girls in STEM