I'm a writer, Youtuber, photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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HELENAW

Hello my friend, today on the blog I wanted to share the importance of why you must define your own success.

Redefining My Definition of “Success” While Living in France 

Moving to France two years ago was a major reset for me personally. Culturally, chasing entrepreneurial success and high-paying salaries isn’t as valued here amongst the people in France. And if it is for some, there is more routine enjoyment and focus on prioritizing work-life balance.

Truth be told, I used to chase success and validation from outside of myself before living abroad. While I’ve always been an optimist and someone that celebrates the simple joys on a daily basis, I also didn’t chase balance and inner peace. I never actively prioritized leisure time and non-monetizable hobbies. 

And during my time here, I started to take notice of the French and their approach to life, work, pleasure and entertainment.

Something was different about their goals and their personal visions for their futures. They seemed happier, more intrinsically motivated. They enjoyed life more….while still feeling content at the end of their days, knowing they gave work their absolute best!

I began observing my work routines, questioning my desires and where they originated. Why have I always wanted this? Where did this need to have x amount of money come from? Who told me that to be successful in life I needed to be featured? Published? Working my side hustle full-time?

Where did these lies come from? And why are so many people believing them?

There are countless ways to define and measure success: income, awards, achievements, finished to-do lists, followers, or just overall busyness and productivity. But it is imperative that you define your own success. That you know what would really, truly make you happy and then clear out the unnecessary clutter that doesn’t add any value or meaning to your life. 

As a content creator, I am surrounded by influencers, Youtubers and people who have crazy big dreams. But for people myself, keeping hobbies just as they are – hobbies – and not dreaming to monetize them or turn them into a major business is essential to our mental health and overall enjoyment in life. 

You don’t need to force or push yourself to have a bigger vision for your life. 

You don’t need to monetize your platform to create a multi-million dollar business!

You don’t need to earn more money….just because most people place their value and worth in that. 

YES, wanting more for yourself isn’t a bad thing! It’s good to challenge yourself, to set goals that push your character and your strength.

But also, to those that don’t have big dreams, wanting a life of less isn’t a bad thing either.

Both are valid and wonderful! But there will always be people policing one’s life, values and choices, simply because it is a reflection of what they hold to be true within themselves. And by being aware of their intentions and motivations,  while maintaining confidence and integrity with our own personal dreams, we can lead that life of balance. That balance of supporting and cheering on others who have bigger dreams while diligently catering to our own small garden.  

I have dreams….but small dreams!

I don’t want to earn six figures. $40,000 a year is PERFECT for me! I want a quiet life of less. I want a slow lifestyle devoted to connecting with nature and writing and painting in my spare moments. I want a life dedicated to having fun with my husband and our future fur babies!

I also want a life that inspires and uplifts others through my photography, writing and creative films on Youtube. I want to create an online platform that people can go to when they want to be uplifted and feel more appreciation for their own life! I want to continue photographing families and kids. And yet…. I also want to maintain a slow life that maintains my quiet creativity, need for privacy and spiritual connection with my inner guidance system. 

I want to lead a simple life and empower others to look within themselves for the answers that best serves them. Because when you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. When you start focusing on living a life that feels good internally, that feels exuberant and joyful and appreciative, you won’t even need to worry about the outside. It’ll reflect that which you feel already. 

What would it look like….if it was all easy? Because you can make this be easy.

Life is so very simple: we are alive and here, and then we are quickly gone. 

You deserve to live easy, and this life can be fun! 🙂

And it all begins with how we measure a life well-lived, how we define success, and what we place value in. 

Not everyone needs to dream big, and also not everyone needs to dream small.

Your Time is Your Greatest Currency

It begs repeating that a multi-million dollar business – heck a six-figure business! – requires more attention, responsibility, and extra plates to juggle. Any type of creative knows that to earn money doing what you love, you have to wear a lot of hats. 

With more success comes a need to hire other people: interns, assistants, and people. With a bigger business comes more quarterly taxes, more complications, and a plethora of website hosting fees to charge annually.  More success leads to more podcast interviews, brand sponsorships and delegation. 

With more success comes a higher cost and more time away from your simpler joys. 

When it comes to success, we have to define where we receive joy and meaning.

For me, my joy stems from the small enjoyments and tasks of everyday life. I find joy in the ordinary – albeit sometimes boring – aspects of life. 

Maybe your simple joys involve tactile, old-fashioned hobbies, running a blog or having more time to read science fiction and adventurous YA novels. Maybe your small delights revolve around spending time with your family, or having the freedom to stay at home with your children. (It’s clear that my biggest value is freedom in time.)

The problem with creating a life vision that revolves around money, success, material possessions, and a dreamy vision board, is that those shiny pennies that might look wonderful and glamorous on the outside might not actually make you happy. Those international adventures and perfectly manicured front yard outside a picturesque cottage in the country might not actually align with your core values.

Enjoying the Journey, Rather than Chasing a Destination

If you enjoy writing to-do lists like me, you know that little skip in your heart and feeling of accomplishment and joy when you cross off another item.

But oftentimes I wonder: eventually, whenever I get to this “it” place, will it make me happy?

Will I enjoy that moment and feeling of accomplishment….or will I be back on my horse, racing off to the next marker?

You see, if you’re a do-er like me, it’s even more important to actively remember to enjoy life’s small victories and stepping stones. To bask and relish in the simple joys of your everyday. 

Maybe those small victories include clicking “publish” on a blog post, cooking a delicious breakfast for your sweetheart or being a kind and helpful neighbor in your community. Maybe it’s showing up for yourself each morning for 10 minutes of stretching. Maybe it’s the small ways in which you take care of yourself like putting 5% of your weekly paycheck in an IRA Roth retirement fun, eating lots of vegetables, or hydrating yourself with lots of water.

The point is: celebrate those small victories! Treasure those little stepping stones, those daily tasks! You’ll feel far more joy along the way! Enjoy the feeling of progress. Bask in that delight of not knowing….and then being surprised by what life has in store for you!

One question everyone needs to stop and ask themselves is “what does success look like for you?”

For me success isn’t an award, a number of followers, or a magazine article. Success to me looks like a simple life filled with small joys and wonders. My definition of success looks like waking up every morning to cuddles with my husband and purring cats kneading at our feet. It’s waking up in the morning, grateful that the sun has risen another day and that our planet is warm enough to enjoy! It’s starting my workday slowly with a cup of hot chocolate. It’s feeling grateful to be alive, breathe fully, create art and string words that I’m passionate about sharing. 

How Would You Spend Your Last Day?

Recently I woke up one morning and read an article about an asteroid that presumably would hit Earth in 2020. I began pondering how I would spend my day, and a second later, lugged out my heavy journal, my favorite silky pen, and started writing a list of the things that I would do to fully live out my final day on Earth.

And I was surprised at what I wrote down! The items on my list were quite simple.

  1. Cuddle with purring cats
  2. Spend the day laughing with my husband
  3. Swim in the sea
  4. Reread my favorite novels
  5. Write a fictional story in my journal…for pleasure

And looking over my list, I got to thinking: I don’t really need all that much to be happy.

Success, to me, isn’t defined by numbers, metrics or validation from others. My value and worth aren’t measured by the numbers in my bank account or the views on my latest Youtube video. It’s not in my client roster or how many photography inquiries I get every week or if I’m asked to be featured or interviewed. None of that actually matters. 

I just want to “be”….and that be enough. 

All of us, at one point or another, will get stuck along the way; we all begin to lose ourselves in what others want from us.

And all too often we find ourselves hustling and scrambling for a life we were never meant to live, never meant to chase. 

And if you want a simpler life of enjoyment, freedom, and in-person community, some of the extra weight becomes too big of a burden to bear.

I don’t want to put pressure on my soft, creative heart. I don’t want to force artistry just to churn out more content! I want to let my art sit and breathe. 

How would you choose to spend your final day on Earth? What would you be doing, if it wasn’t at all tied to money or achievement? 

How I’ve Been Told to Define Success

Here’s the thing: when I picked up my first used camera, I never wanted accolades for photography or a studio lined with gorgeous canva wraps of my work.  I was taught to want that by various teachers, mentors and hobbyists in online photography forums. I was told that to make a living doing what I loved, I had to earn six figures.

Even my own mother, a photographer who’s always looked up to Anne Leibovitz, encouraged me to desire being a portrait photographer…for celebrities! I love her and her encouragement….but no, I don’t want to serve those clients. 

When I dug deeper within what I really desired, I discovered my values. And most of my values revolve around a life of simplicity and feeling vibrant, free and so very much alive. I wanted to live near the trees, in a small house with a playful partner, where cat meows echoed down the halls and laughter bounced off the walls. I wanted slow dances in the kitchen, while the pasta boiled on the stove and quiet evenings playing sudoku before drifting off to sleep together each night. (I didn’t realize how much I act like a grandma!) I wanted to have slow mornings filled with meditating, stretching and scribbling in my journal.

As Anne Shirley once said to Gilbert, “I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls…I just want you.” So corny, so good!

But what she says always strikes a chord in me when I rewatch Anne of Avonlea. I am in want of nothing but a small, cozy home and time spent with my husband. But as I evolve and change, inevitably I will want different things. And as long as I can keep my natural curiosity, imagination and appreciation for the small, simple joys of daily life….I don’t need much else. 

I am already a success, because how I define “success” is aligned with my values and my actions. 

Define Your Own Success

I encourage you, dear blog reader, to reach into the depths of your soul and to question what you desire. What does true success mean to you? Where did you acquire those dreams of yours? Where did those goals come from? How is your dream vision for your life different from the life you are living now? Why do you want to change it? 

We need to pause and define success for ourselves.

Don’t go venturing to someone’s Pinterest board or scrolling down someone’s Instagram profile to see what it is they did in the past to get where they are now. Rather, ask yourself what would make you truly happy, and then define your own success. 

I hope these ideas that have been on my heart and mind this week inspire you to look inward and ponder what it is that truly makes you come alive.

You are so supported, dear friend!

Much love (and a warm hug), 

Helena 

Helena Woods enjoying the simple joys in natural light in the forest

Ways to Begin Slow Living

For more ways to begin slow living and living simply with my joy, join my email list to receive monthly love notes from me about slow living and the simple joys in our everyday! If you’d like to watch more of my films on slow living and my intentional life in France, feel free to follow along via Youtube and subscribe to the Simple Joys channel! 

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Why You MUST Define Your Own Success

October 15, 2020

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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