It’s been said that the test of a true man’s character is the way he behaves when no one is watching. The last few years of my life have lead me to believe that a better testament of personal character is how we respond to life’s blows, and how we treat others when we lose everything.
This past year my family has lost every single asset that has come to define modern day success.
Whether filling out school, home, or job applications, our entry to security and opportunity are all qualified upon this value of financial success…of winning.
The world tells us to boldly chase after what sets our soul on fire. To be fearless and to #riseandgrind. We put entrepreneurs and risk-takers on pedestals, and we are led to believe that if we want something bad enough, and are also willing to put in the time and sacrifice that it takes, we can achieve all of our hearts greatest desires (these photos are an example of a dream come true…that was suddenly gone).
Sometimes that happens. My husband was lucky enough to achieve enormous success in business at a very early age. He brought significant impact to companies by doing things he was remarkably talented at, and those impacts made companies a great deal of money. His personal financial gains from those wins made taking more bold leaps possible, and seven years ago when we embarked on building our life together, we set off to do just that.
At that time, I believed that my husband and I were both destined and entitled to even more “success” because we were two of the most intelligent, honest, and hard-working people I know.
We do the right thing, even when that meant we took the biggest hits, because we value integrity above all else. We are not afraid of hard things.
We have collectively sacrificed so much to try and get ahead, and we did it all because success meant we had the opportunity to change other people’s lives.
But even in the face of all of those realities, we managed to lose the two things that we thought we needed the most - my longing for security - and my husband’s desire for freedom.
Let’s be honest, those two losses were horribly difficult to swallow.
Some of our losses were due to the inevitable missteps that one takes when pioneering and disrupting into new territories, some were the byproducts of personal growth, and many of our losses (and the hardest to recover from) were the consequences of being taken advantage of by people who did not share our core values.
No one talks about what happens when the pursuit of happiness doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.
How do you stomach disappointment? How do you modify your lens of success when you try your best and you don’t succeed?
And this is what I have learned as I stand here today in the reckoning of letting go of the security that I once believed defined me…
Most leaders believe that the biggest indicator of success is money, because money equals power, power equals freedom, and without freedom we have no control. I have learned however, that the things that give you the most fulfillment in life (for us, there is no greater meaning in life than the kind you experience as a parent) are often the things you lose sight of on the journey towards building your safety net.
While research has proven that money only increases happiness up to the point of about 70K a year, I still held on to this notion that ambition, if altruistic in nature, could bring purpose to your life.
I surmised that business could act as a vehicle to create impact and to give back - and I have since come to understand that the biggest gifts I have given to others didn’t lie in the money I donated to charitable causes, or within the opportunities I provided, but in the ways I loved just a handful of people with my whole heart.
For a long time, I held onto this system of belief that my need for safety and freedom had to be met in order for me to be happy.
I have transformed that ideology in recent months to uncover quite the opposite. When you are the most stripped down and sitting in the absence of the things you think you need the most, is when you truly awaken to the magic of the world around you.
When you are forced to stop all the doing, grinding, charging, achieving, driving, hustling, and fighting is when you get still enough to focus on the being of human existence.
I should admit that I am still in the process of forcing myself to stop the cycle. Accepting disappointment is certainly not my biggest strength.
When you don’t feel secure - you feel afraid - and its human nature to want to charge to fix it, control it, and solve it. When you feel stuck, and you don’t have answers to your problems, it is ever so difficult to let yourself be still and to focus on the sound of your child’s laugh, the wind at your back, the blessings you have in just being alive.
But this is the new measure of success I have set for myself and these are the goals I am striving towards: embracing disappointment and finding joy in the absence of getting what I thought I needed, being fully present to the simple joys of life, and expressing gratitude for what I have instead of mourning all that has been lost.
The silver lining of my story is that when you lose everything, you get to wipe the slate clean and start over…and as it turns out the security, freedom, and success I have always wanted, was always right here for the taking. It just looks different than I expected. The world is still our oyster, and I wouldn’t bet against us.
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA CERANNA: ENTREPRENEUR, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, PHOTOGRAPHER, SOCIAL MEDIA & CONTENT STRATEGIST