How I Define Success as a Person Living With Anxiety


Success isn’t a word I keep in my personal vocabulary; it seems to be quite contradictory to define what success is when I haven’t made it applicable to my own life.

Success has always revealed itself to me as cliché, stale and ordinary. And it’s because of this view of success that I find statements such as, “Working really hard is what successful people do,” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” to be extremely off-putting.

Hard work shouldn’t be done solely for success as the purpose; hard work should be done because it reveals a person’s character and work ethic. Success is so much more than a single-minded “hard work” POV. Success can come from some of the worst things in our lives.

In April 2015, my father lost all memory of the first three weeks of that month due to a rare ruptured brain aneurysm. My father had to learn how to properly walk again by getting his strength back and managing his thought process.

Emma Welling

At the same time, I had to learn how to become independent since both of my parents were more than half an hour away in the ICU of a hospital for 21 days. I had to let myself unload the burden of nearly losing a family member, which eventually translated into being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

I know what it’s like to face adversity and feel like there’s no hope. I was half an hour away when I received the phone call that I needed to get to the hospital as fast as possible because my dad was in critical condition with blood pooling in his brain. I know what it’s like to think you aren’t going to make it. I was certain my dad wouldn’t be alive when I finally arrived at the hospital.

And only four weeks after that, I found myself lying on the floor of a classroom experiencing my first ever panic attack. I know what it’s like to feel as if you’ve reached the end. I was certain I was going to die on that classroom floor when nearly an hour had passed by and I still felt the weight of the world on my chest.

It was in the midst of these moments — seeing my dad unconscious in the ER with a drain in his head and panicking in a classroom — that I realized there were things that happen in this world that aren’t in my control.

If success is truly based off of how hard I work at something, I’m afraid I’ll be a failure my whole life. No matter how hard I try, I can’t change how the neurotransmitters release or how the synapses fire in my brain. There’s nothing in my power that will eliminate this disorder; I may very well have anxiety for the rest of my life. However, that doesn’t constitute me as unsuccessful. I consider myself strong and courageous, and I refuse to let those words be only synonymous with success.

Success isn’t one size fits all. As an individual with anxiety, I sometimes feel like I have to prove and justify my success because society views mental illnesses as a disadvantage that demerits success. When I find myself thinking this way, I quickly remind myself that anxiety is a setback only if I view it that way. Success is possible for anyone no matter what his or her situation is.

Personally, my success comes from waking up and taking my first conscious breath of the morning, knowing I have another day to do something with my life. My success comes from making those around me more aware of the truths about mental illnesses and my anxiety disorder. My success comes from making it through an anxious situation or an anxiety attack. My success comes from being who I am and not letting anything hold me back from expressing who I am — even if that means having more anxiety than an average person.

You can spend your whole life trying to create a perfect and burden-free life, but that will never lead to a prosperous and successful one. The only way we grow is through the trying situations in life. I’ve learned more about myself and life since my dad had his near death experience and I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Success is what you want it to be — it’s malleable and changeable. It doesn’t come from hard work or perfect health. It comes from resilience and hope that life will go on. There is no need to try hard or impress others, just simply be and success will follow.

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