successI’m reading the book Mistakes I Made at Work, a compilation of successful women who talk about the most disastrous mistakes they have made on the job. This is a powerful book. As women, we are terrified of messing up. We know the delicate balance of life itself depends on us being perfect every day.

For these strong, professional women to open up and share their dirty little secrets(they’re not perfect, shhhhh!), makes us collectively breathe a sigh of relief. (It’s not just me? Who knew!) Men think differently. They respond differently. If they make a mistake, they recognize it, tell no one, plan to not do it again, and it is forgotten by lunchtime.

Women…not so much. We internalize it. We take it personally. We feel we have let people down, wronged them. We beat ourselves up for days and think we are not good enough. And unlike men, who keep it to themselves, we “confess”. Repeatedly. To anyone who will listen. Penance.

It doesn’t seem to occur to us that making mistakes merely makes us human. It is how we learn. We are forgiving of others’ mistakes. Just not our own. Sound familiar?

In the book, author Judith Warner talks about the drawback of looking for “external signs of success.” That could mean an “atta girl” from your boss, having a high number of followers on social media, or having a record number of sales. When you do that, Warner explains, you don’t take care of yourself, what she refers to as “personal sustainability.”mistakes

I love that phrase. Personal sustainability. What does she means by that? If you do what you do because you love it, it matters to you, you feel you are making a difference is someone’s life, you can have long term happiness and “success.” That success may be defined differently. You may not see as many sales or have as many followers. Maybe people at work aren’t giving you high fives in the break room. But instead of 70 likes on Facebook by people you’ve never met, you may get an email from one person thanking you for helping him. Is that not a better definition of success? Only you can answer that.

Have you found personal sustainability? How did you do it?