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Alana Van Der Sluys On How We Need To Redefine Success

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Look at your current successes — I don’t make a lot of money with my business yet, as it’s still growing. I don’t have a second home or take lavish vacations. All those things would be great, but instead of feeling like a failure for what I don’t have yet, I think about all the things I have accomplished. My three college degrees, awards, my son, my marriage, my friendships, my book, my teaching career, learning how to manage my thoughts and emotions better, my eating disorder recovery. I have so much I’ve done and overcome, and I can feel like a success today, even if I never acquire anything else.

Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.

As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alana Van Der Sluys.

Alana Van Der Sluys is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor in training, an eating disorder survivor, and the founder of Freedom with Food and Fitness, an online community dedicated to empowering women to heal their relationship with food, weight, and their bodies through intuitive eating, fitness, and mindset coaching. She is also an award-winning, full-time English and journalism teacher in New Jersey. A lover of whisky and travel, Alana lives with her husband Scott; her son, Archer; and her fur baby, Captain Oats.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

The experience that most shaped who I am today both as a person and a “side hustle mompreneur” was my struggle with three eating disorders: orthorexia, binge eating disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder. They stole over seven years of my life, but through that experience, I really learned who I was as a person: my motivations, strengths, and insecurities. It also fueled my passion to become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and create my business, Freedom with Food and Fitness, so I can help women heal from similar struggles with body, weight, and food.

The other experience that shaped me was rather a series of “micro-experiences” related to external validation. As a child, I was always praised for external things: accomplishments, appearance, awards, grades, etc.. While well-meaning by those who praised me, I turned this praise into something to be sought at all costs. My natural inclination to be high achieving has a shadow-side in the form of self-prescribed perfectionism. I harmed myself mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to appear perfect, please others, and be “the good girl.” Through mindset and thought coaching, I’ve learned that being messy, awkward, imperfect, and a failure are good things! They move you forward in this experiment we call life.

We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?

I used to believe success was doing the most things. I used to wholly subscribe to hustle culture. I was always very go-go-go, do-do-do. While I’ve known for a very long time that, objectively, she who does the most by the end of her life doesn’t “win,” I’ve only recently really been applying this to my own life and realizing that not everything on my to-do list is urgent. I have a tendency to forget that 90% of my agenda day-to-day is really optional. They’re all wonderful and productive things, but not things to put undue pressure on myself to accomplish. If I remember that life is an option, and I choose what to do, think and feel, the pressure dissipates.

How has your definition of success changed?

Success is, at the end of your life, saying, “Gosh, that was fun! I wish I could do it again!” It’s having a life that’s meaningful to you. It’s staying authentic to who you are, no matter what you do. It’s laughing, loving, and being happy in the present moment. Things like beauty and wealth are not happiness. Accepting who you are, exactly as you are today–without any of those external things–is true success.

The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?

We need a sense of compassion. We are so divided and in such an explosive way. We are so entrenched with what “our side” believes that it makes us blind to the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others. We’ve lost the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We’ve adopted what I believe to be a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality, when life is so much more gray than that.

We’ve also forgotten that we cannot change what others think, feel, or do. We take what others do so personally, and we make it mean so much, but that’s wasted energy. We can only control what we choose to believe, think, and do. And it would better serve us to concentrate on whether we are showing up as our best selves, instead of how others are showing up.

What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.

Some of the best things in my life came out of the pandemic. First and foremost, I gave birth to my son, Archer. Speaking of success, so long as he is happy and healthy, I have succeeded in life. He is my biggest priority, and he’s not even a to-do list item!

I also wrote my first book, which has, at the time of this article, been unofficially picked up by an international publisher. Freedom with Food and Fitness: A Guide to Quitting Diets, Enjoying Exercise, and Becoming Your Healthiest, Most Confident Self as an Intuitive Eater will tentatively be released at the end of this year. I also started my business, Freedom with Food and Fitness, during the pandemic!

It was a time of social isolation, for sure, which was further exacerbated by new motherhood and trying to protect my child from COVID. But again, life is a choice. I can choose to see the bad or choose to see the good. I choose the latter.

We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”

  1. Separate your version of success from other people’s version — This is your life, and as a result, you need to define success for yourself. I would not consider myself a success if I made a million dollars in my business this year, but sacrificed being present with my family most of the time or sacrificed my mental health. Success for me would be helping others, even just one person, while working on bettering my relationship with myself. If the business takes off, that would be wonderful, but I wouldn’t consider it a success if it came at the expense of what really matters to me in this life.
  2. Look at your current successes — I don’t make a lot of money with my business yet, as it’s still growing. I don’t have a second home or take lavish vacations. All those things would be great, but instead of feeling like a failure for what I don’t have yet, I think about all the things I have accomplished. My three college degrees, awards, my son, my marriage, my friendships, my book, my teaching career, learning how to manage my thoughts and emotions better, my eating disorder recovery. I have so much I’ve done and overcome, and I can feel like a success today, even if I never acquire anything else.
  3. Realize success will not bring happiness in its truest form — You will never be happy when you are “successful” if you’re not happy right now. A six-figure business, fancy material things, a great body…none of it will make you happy because they’re all moving targets. If you hang your success and happiness on those things, there will always be more money to make, more things to buy, more pounds to lose before you allow yourself to feel like you’ve “made it.” Decide you’ve already made it, and then keep pushing to improve and grow.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others — Take it from someone who always wanted to be the best: there will always be someone more successful, thinner, prettier, handsomer, wealthier, more popular, than you. That’s their journey, and you’re on yours. Stop using others as a measuring stick. You also have no idea what their life is really like, what their thoughts are about themselves, and how much help they’ve had along the way. You can use other people’s ideas and successes as inspiration for your own, but don’t let it be something that you use to beat yourself up with or use as confirmation that you’re “less than.”
  5. Embrace failure — It took 87 rejections for my first book before I was offered a deal. It took more to get a literary agent. It’s impossible to do everything you try perfectly. The failures are learning experiences, so embrace each and every one of them as such. If you’re not failing, and failing often, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not taking enough risks.

How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?

It would become less elusive if we just decided to consider ourselves successful today. Otherwise, if it’s this “in the distance” marker, it becomes a moving target that we never hit. What we’re really chasing when we’re chasing success are things like safety, acceptance, love, and validation: what I refer to as SALV in my business. We chase success for the same reasons we chase weight loss; we want the bigger, abstract concepts that we think those things represent. The key, though, is learning to love ourselves now, validate ourselves now, be happy now, BEFORE the success; and we will be successful.

What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?

Society’s external messaging and expectations get in our way. Day in and day out we are told what success looks like, how we should get it, what it means about us if we’re not achieving it in the way we’re told we should. That’s where a lot of shame and guilt reside. We take those external messages, and, with their repetition, create neural pathways that, over time, begin to feel like fact. Who says a thin body is success? Who says wealth is success? Really take the time to evaluate what these pillars of “success” mean to you, and if you really need them to be successful.

Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?

I love to read memoirs of successful people. I like to look at their genesis stories and their failures. And I’m not just talking about famous and wealthy people either! I like to read about everyday people, hear their stories.

I also have clients who buy bread for the first time in years and eat it without guilt or bingeing. That is success. That is coming home to yourself.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet Michelle Obama. I thought she was such an approachable and personable First Lady. Her memoir, Becoming, blew me away in terms of her story, her fears,, her tenacity, and her vulnerability. She is a success story for women everywhere, particularly those who are still marginalized, and I just feel like she and I could totally throw back some mimosas and plot ways to strengthen the power of women in this world!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am on Instagram @FreedomwithFoodandFitness and at www.freedomwithfoodandfitness.com.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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Food Is Medicine And What We Eat Is Important

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Your mental state is a critical component of your physical health. And when you’re under a lot of stress, you might not be eating the healthy food that provides nutrients for fighting anxiety and depression. So when we examine what we’ve been eating, most of us discover that the decisions we’ve been making in the name of simplicity, convenience, or saving time have been damaging to our total health – body, mind, and spirit.

A person’s diet is a direct reflection of their health. When a person does not eat the right foods, their body breaks down. This can lead to an overall decrease in quality of life and many other diseases linked to improper nutrition. In North America, our current diet mainly consists of an excess of grain, sugar, fried and fatty foods. As a result, disorders including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and certain malignancies are becoming increasingly widespread.

The science of food has always been discussed; however, with recent technological innovations in food processing and agriculture, people have enjoyed more convenient foods that are less expensive than ever before. Unfortunately, with every convenience comes a trade-off. Smart foods are often packed with sugar, salt, and calories, leading to poor health in some individuals. 

To understand what a person is putting into their body, it’s essential to realize that the small molecules in food are responsible for allowing our bodies to function. These small molecules are called nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes. A nutrient is not a value unless absorbed by the body through a specific pathway. For example, if you absorb calcium without vitamin D, your body will not use that calcium. 

Eating a balanced diet keeps you healthy, but it helps reduce your stress. For example, eat foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants because they help augment your immune response and prevent toxins from damaging your cells. Vitamins A, C, and E serve as antioxidants that fight off free radicals in the body. Free radicals are toxic products of metabolism that cause damage to your cells. Experts claim that they are responsible for the aging process. Good sources of these vitamins are deeply-colored vegetables- green leafy, yellow, and orange vegetables, such as squash, broccoli, kale, spinach, and carrots.

Iron is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, and it mainly functions to deliver oxygen to your cells. Hence, an iron deficiency, medically termed Iron-deficiency anemia, is associated with weakness, easy fatigability, and pale skin. Tea, coffee, red wine, grapes, and berries are rich in antioxidants that function the same as your vitamins A, C, and E. 
You need a diet that’s healthy and balanced – and one that can fit comfortably into your busy lifestyle.

Here are some of the recommended dietary guidelines.

Eat a diet high in fresh vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. 

Exercise every other day to release endorphins, feel good, get the blood flowing, and reduce stress levels. 

Eat salt only when you need it, but not too much as your body does not need it. Many people with anxiety are hypothyroid or have low magnesium. When your body needs more sodium, it can indicate that you are not producing enough cortisol or are dehydrated. If you experience chronic anxiety, I recommend working with a physician to run tests on cortisol levels and then take salt supplements as needed. Use spices like turmeric, ginger, curry, and aromatic herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage, and basil.
Eat low-fat meals because they will cause a minor spike in blood sugar levels: think lean meats, eggs, vegetables, and nuts; avoid dairy if it makes you feel anxious. 

Drink lots of water — keep hydrated all day — ideally at least half a gallon if possible — your brain needs water to function optimally! 

Avoid foods that you know will make you feel bad, such as dairy, even with low-fat content. You can cut out dairy and not worry about it! 

Avoid sugar, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, and any other substance that makes you feel bad or increases anxiety levels. Also, avoid coffee — drinking more than one cup a day can cause anxiety in some people. Coffee is also dehydrating and inhibits the absorption of minerals from food/water/supplements — try caffeinated water as a substitute for coffee if you like the caffeine kick. 

Find a natural health professional that you can talk to or work with to quickly get the results you want. 

Healthy foods and nutrition can help you stay fit, but they can also assist you in treating disease. When you nurture your body physically with these nutrient-dense foods, your mental capacities improve, as does your spiritual welfare. Moreover, because your spiritual health is at its best, it will radiate to the exterior world, causing others to notice you’re happier and more relaxed, and your stress levels have decreased dramatically.

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The Points of Light Civic Circle Offers Real Ways You Can Change the World 

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Sixty-six percent of Americans don’t believe they can make a big impact in the world. 

That figure is according to Points of Light’s research on civic engagement. But what if I told you there are actually many ways to drive change? 

Today’s political climate can feel divided or even stagnant, but the truth is, you really can make things better, starting with your own community, one act of kindness at a time. And those aren’t just words. I’m here to share real, practical ways for you to make a difference. 

The Points of Light Civic Circle helps people connect to opportunities and understand that doing good comes in many forms. It is a framework that represents your power to lead, lend support and take action for causes you care about and live your best civic life. 

The Civic Circle provides actionable examples of all the ways you can change your community to reflect the world you want to see around you. In fact, you’re probably doing some of these things already. Are you helping a neighbor by picking up groceries or chaperoning on your child’s class field trip? You’re volunteering. Did you vote in the last election or help others get to the polls so they could vote? Those acts of civic duty illustrate the “vote” element. When you buy a product, do you choose to support companies that reflect your values or advance a social cause? That’s called “purchase power.” There are nine elements of the Civic Circle, and countless ways to bring each one to life. 

This blog is the first in a five-part series that will help you find real and manageable ways to activate the Civic Circle through apps, documentaries, podcasts and books. 

We also offer other resources to help you connect with all the ways you can become empowered to be the change you want to see in the world. Check out our videos that provide an in-depth look at each element of the Civic Circle. And don’t miss Civic Life Today, our digital magazine series. Each issue takes a deep dive and provides materials, ideas and inspiration so that you can become civically engaged.  Get started today, and launch your own civic engagement journey with these tools. 

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Are you an Amateur or a Pro? 30 Differences to Help You Decide…

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My client, Sebastian, thinks he’s behind on “life”.

He thinks he missed the memo the rest of us received on how to live a happy life.

I know better.

Sebastian hasn’t fallen behind and there is no such memo.

We’re all just trying to figure it out.

Unless we’re not. And there are a lot of people who simply are not trying to figure it out.

My friend and Professional Coach, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, calls them Status quo-ers — as opposed to Growers.

Anyone who makes a serious commitment to working with a Professional Coach is by definition a “Grower” and Sebastian is no exception.

Growers want to know, feel and live more. They push every boundary and sometimes fall off cliffs. They say “yes” to way too many things and often feel overwhelmed and over committed. They have a congenital distaste of the status quo and will sabotage any situation if it feels like “settling” to them. They’re insatiable and often don’t know what exactly will assuage their hunger.

Growers often appear to the world as troubled, frustrated and critical.

Inside they feel unfulfilled and misunderstood.

The truth is that they can’t help but be driven by Oscar Wilde’s belief that,

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”

Growers will break every piece in the china shop when they find themselves just existing and not living as they see fit. And they suffer for it.

That is… until they turn pro and transform their life!

Steven Pressfield famously states in his book, Turning Pro

“Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

Sebastian thinks he’s falling behind because he’s still living life as an amateur at 34.

To put the above into context, I didn’t turn pro till well into my 40’s!

Best move I ever made! 

So what’s the difference between living life as an amateur vs. a pro?

Although there is no one size fits all manifesto on “how to turn pro”, here are thirty distinctions I’ve learned which apply to ANY Grower who is truly committed to living a life of purpose, fulfillment and ease.

  1. Amateurs look for hacks and shortcuts — Pros do the work.
  2. Amateurs speed up — Pros slow down.
  3. Amateurs are busy — Pros are focused.
  4. Amateurs sell first — Pros serve first.
  5. Amateurs think it’s about them — Pros know it’s never personal.
  6. Amateurs think life is short — Pros know life is actually really freakin’ long.
  7. Amateurs are reactive — Pros are responsive.
  8. Amateurs live with constant misunderstandings — Pros take the time to get clear.
  9. Amateurs don’t know what success looks like (to them) — Pros  know their definition of success and aren’t afraid to change it.
  10. Amateurs don’t know their core life values — Pros do.
  11. Amateurs want to feel happy — Pros want to feel alive!
  12. Amateurs play to “not lose” — Pros play to win.
  13. Amateurs are harsh — Pros are fierce.
  14. Amateurs secretly enjoy being in the “Victim Mindset” — Pros are a “Hell No” to that!
  15. Amateurs wonder what people say about them when they leave the room — Pros know.
  16. Amateurs have false and limiting beliefs around money — Pros don’t.
  17. Amateurs are constantly searching for life balance — Pros are living an integrated life.
  18. Amateurs think everything matters — Pros know what few things actually do matter (for them).
  19. Amateurs set boundaries defensively — Pros simply honor their “operating system”.
  20. Amateurs think help is a four letter word — Pros actively seek opportunities to help and be helped.
  21. Amateurs don’t have a relationship with their “Future Self” — Pros are best friends with their “Future Self”.
  22. Amateurs confuse knowing with doing — Pros receive knowledge and apply it (EVERY moment of EVERY day).
  23. Amateurs love information — Pros love insights.
  24. Amateurs have intentions — Pros have commitments.
  25. Amateurs have expectations — Pros have agreements.
  26. Amateurs compare — Pros create.
  27. Amateurs live from probability — Pros live from possibility.
  28. Amateurs are focused only on the “Goal Line” — Pros are focused on both the “Goal Line” and the “Soul Line”.
  29. Amateurs set goals with contingencies — Pros know contingencies are just excuses and NOW is the time!
  30. Amateurs create from the past — Pros create from the future.

Now that you are aware of the 30 differences between an amateur and a pro, where do you see yourself?

And I’d love to know why. Get in touch with your answer.

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