My Definition of Success


I’ve been struggling this week. And when I say I’ve been struggling, I mean—I started ugly crying in the car in the middle of a torrential downpour while listening to a Miley Cyrus song—kind of struggling.

My daughter probably thought I was crazy when she told me she wanted to sing the song she we was working on in  her lesson, and as the music soared and she hit the refrain, I burst into tears.  OK, not just tears you guys, it was that ugly sob that contorts your face into something that looks like it belongs in a horror movie and makes it difficult to breathe, let alone drive a car in the rain. It was these words that did me in:

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb

These lyrics—they resonated with me. Because its where I find myself in this season of life. There always seems to be a mountain in front of me these days and I know good and well what I have to do. I have to climb it. But instead of moving forward and tackling it, I keep looking backward, trying to find a way out. Why? Because I’m scared. Because I want things to be easy. Because I miss when things were easy. Because I miss when I was just a photographer. Those were the good old days. I was on cruise control. I was comfortable there. But change doesn’t happen in your comfort zone—it happens when you stop looking backward, and you decide to climb that mountain in front of you, even though you know the climb is going to be hard.

So, sitting right there in the gas station crying my eyes out to Miley Cyrus singing “The Climb,” I made a decision. I’m going to stop looking backward—constantly longing for the simplicity of a stage of life that is gone—and I’m going to look forward. I’m going to climb the mountain in front of me.

Change is hard. Letting go is hard. Accepting your journey and where it takes you—even when you have to climb mountains, actually, especially when you have to climb mountains—is hard.  Mike Miller and I have been in a season of change. Roughly 10 months ago we launched this business and website—CC and Mike. We had absolutely no idea where we were heading. All I knew was that I heard a prompting, a gentle voice whispering, “It’s time for change.” I had to redo my website and I knew it wasn’t supposed to be just a photography website. I had written a book at that point, though I told almost no one, and during that season, I remembered my long lost love for writing; and I realized how I had neglected it over the years. I knew I wanted to write again—yes, on a blog, but there was this nagging for perhaps even more than that. I also knew over the years we had done building and construction projects, but never really shared our passion with others. We felt it was time to put our passion out there into the world. So, we took a leap of faith. We took the first step down an uncharted path, and we started a new and unexpected journey. Just like any journey, there have been ups and downs. Beautiful moments of excitement and hope, and crashing moments of defeat and discouragement.  At times I feel hopeful and so thankful that we began this new journey, while at other moments I call Michael defeated and in tears, struggling not to give into the other voice—the one that tells me I screwed up; the one that wants me to look back over my shoulder into the past where I was comfortable; the one that tells me this change is too hard; the one that tells me I’m out of my element; the one that tells me I’ve worked for almost a year for nothing; the one that tells me I’m not going to recoop the money I’ve invested into my book; the one that tells me critics are going to rip me apart when I put my book out there into the world; the one that tells me I can’t do it; the one that tells me—Who are you to design a house for someone else. The one that tells me it would have been easier not to start. Yep, there I said it. Those are the demons I’ve been struggling with.

Perhaps someone is reading this and is surprised.  So you’ve seen the pretty pictures on my blog and just assumed I had my act together? You assumed I don’t struggle? You assumed I don’t feel discouraged or defeated or hopeless or overwhelmed or undeserving or afraid? Well, I do. When I started this journey I made a promise that I would be real. I would be me. I would share the ups and the downs with you and I’ve done just that in posts like – The Non-Highlight Reel, the Letter of Forgiveness I wrote to the man who tried to murder my mom, Our Story, and yes, even the blog post on my TV debut when I did part of the interview with a sock hanging off my shirt. If you’ve read any of those posts, then you know that my life has been far more than the pretty pictures of pretty homes that you sometimes see on this blog. There is far more to the story. I’m a bit of a scatterbrained, hot mess; and there is always a behind the scenes. I started this journey keeping it real and I’m going to continue keeping it real, because I know no other way.

So the truth? This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Some days I think to myself—Man if you would have kept doing photography and invested this much time into photography, you would have put X amount of dollars in the bank.

Let me pause and get real with you guys because I’ve realized recently that part of my problem is this one little word—success. No, the problem isn’t the word, but in the way I was defining it; and the way the pursuit of it was ruining my life.

I am currently reading Shauna Neiquist‘s Present over Perfect. I’m sure you’ve heard of this beautiful, magnificent piece of literature that is sweeping the nation, and for good reason. Oh Shauna, you speak to my soul with your words of wisdom, uttering those oh-so-unpopular words for this fast-paced, push-push-then push some more American society that we live in. You give us permission—no, you call us even—to step away from the push to perform and succeed. You call us to quit our frenetic lives devoid of human connection, and step into a different way of living. You tell us to live our lives focusing on what matters most—our souls and what feeds them—not the push for success.

I’m going to get really raw with you guys and tell you one of my biggest fears. I’m afraid of failure. I’m terrified of it for some reason. At times, my fear of failure drives me to be a version of myself that I don’t want to be—rushed, forced, always pressing instead of resting, always trying to prove that I’m not a failure. I don’t know why I am the way I am. It just is. I’ve always pushed, from the time I was a little kid. Pushing comes natural to me, and if I’m being honest, I push to prove. I’m terrified of starting this business—this blog—only to realize it was a mistake. So I push. I am terrified of being decent at a few things, but never truly finding that one passion that I was called for. I’m terrified that all of this work that I’ve done over the past year, will be for nothing. So, I push. I push harder, and then I push some more.  Until….I find myself crying in the rain to Miley Cyrus with my daughter looking at me like I’m certifiably insane.

Is that what I want for life? For my daughter to see my break down crying in the car?  No. I think Shauna described my situation perfectly in her book:

“Many of us, myself, included, considered our souls necessary collateral damage to get done the things we felt we simply had to get get done – because of other people’s expectations, because we want to be know as highly capable, because we’re trying to outrun an inner emptiness. And for a while we don’t even realize the compromise we’ve made. We’re on autopilot, chugging through the day on fear and caffeine, checking things off the list, falling into bed without even a real thought or feeling or connection all day long, just a sense of having made it through.”

You know what? I have three design boards I need to do. My book is halfway through the developmental edit and I can’t get it finished. I just can’t seem to carve out the time to sit and have uninterrupted time to write it. I need to teach myself Pinterest and how to get my print shop transferred over to make buyable Pins, and there are about twenty-five unfinished projects around my house. The old me—the version of me that has break downs to Miley Cyrus songs in the car during a torrential downpour—says to push. I need to get those rooms finished. I need to post my pool bath. I need to write this blog post or that blog post. I need to start reading about self publishing my book because how in the world am I going to market my book?  I need to post on Instagram. Oh crap, speaking of Instagram, I am so behind on my Twitter game. I need to learn that too. In fact, I don’t understand Twitter at all. I’m so behind, so behind. I need to push, push, push.

Or, I could just quit.

I could check my son out for lunch. I could invite my best friend to go to lunch. I could go get pedicures. I could stop pushing, and I could feed my soul instead.

You see, I need to be honest with you guys. I’ve been pushing because I wanted to be successful, or what I thought was successful. I wanted to know that I didn’t waste my money investing in this website. I wanted to prove to myself and to others, that I was a success.  And as a result, I found myself sitting in my car bawling in front of my daughter to Miley Cyrus singing “The Climb.” So, I’m stepping away from the push. Yes, there is a mountain I have to climb in front of me and you know what, I’m going to stop looking backward, face my eyes forward, and accept that I have to climb it. But I’m going to do it at my pace. I’m going to stop and take breaks. I’m going to breathe. I’m going to check my son out for lunch. I’m going to take my daughter for a special mother-daughter day. I’m going to text a friend and ask her to go get pedicures. I’m going to constantly remind myself that I don’t have to push to prove.

After my crying breakdown in the car, I realized something. My entire problem was, perhaps, in my definition of success. My definition was somehow equated with financial success—covering the cost I’ve spent on my website redo’s, starting to profit on my print shop, and making sure I don’t lose money on my book.  But now I see that therein is the problem.  So, I’m changing my definition of success.

You see, I’ve decided I’m a success if my children and my husband feel loved and are my first priority, always. I’m a success because I had the courage to take the first step and start a new business. I’m a success because I don’t give up. I’m a success because I wrote a book, regardless of if it makes or loses money. I’m a success because I choose to be vulnerable and share my insecurities rather than hide behind all my pretty pictures. I’m a success because I show my children everyday—through my actions—how to believe in themselves, how to be courageous, to not allow themselves to live a life of fear, and to chase their dreams with confidence.

I have a new definition of success and it’s changed everything.  No more crying in the car to Miley Cyrus songs because I’m pushing to prove I’m somebody else’s definition of a success. When I look back at my life, it won’t be my financial triumphs that will define my life as a success, but these instead: The courage to take the first step. The courage to have a dream, and fight for it. How completely and wholeheartedly I loved my family and others. And most of all, what will define my success, is that I didn’t give up. I ran the race. I climbed the mountain.

Happy Friday everyone.  Just had to share because maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one who needs to redefine the word success.

And if you don’t mind…here are a few of the small business successes I’m celebrating this week, seeing my prints in someone else’s beautiful home.  Huge thanks to Melody from My House of Four for sending me her staging of our beach print and Kaila from These Blonde Walls for this amazing staging of our horse print .




















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  • Alma Arrieta
    Posted at 15:43h, 07 April Reply

    CC we just met but since we’re keeping it real I Just love you and your open and honest heart! And if I’m gonna keep it real, this made me tear and my son even gave me the “what’s wrong with you” look. I know you know that look Anyway thanks for sharing and yes to redefining success! For me, trying to please everyone It’s not the way to live life so I’m working on that and after reading this I feel more ready to keep pressing! I’ll be here cheering you on girl

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 16:08h, 07 April Reply

      Alma I feel the same way about you sweet friend! It’s crazy how even in this crazy social media world, you just know when you “connect” with someone. Thank YOU for reading this crazy long post and letting me share my heart. Together we can stop pushing, let go of the need to please and prove, and step into an intentional life of peace and happiness!!!

  • Summer Adams
    Posted at 15:53h, 07 April Reply

    Ok soooo… crying right now may not be the ugly cry you described early on LOL… Only because I’ve done that the last few days ha! (Which you know) But I sit here and cry with you because I understand this all so well and, you know, I am right there too! That book is life-changing and I’m so glad we are reading it together ( I have 2 chapters left). It takes courage to change but can only bring true happiness. God is on your side! Our side!

    This was beautifully written, heartfelt, honest, raw, genuine…all the things I love about you and why I’ve connected with you from the beginning. This is why you will bless so many lives and connect with so many women and help so many people… Because you are real. It’s not just the flashy home decor and cute shoes or delicious recipes that they’ll want to come here for. They will come back over and over because they can count on you to go beneath the surface. To talk about the things that really matter. A place turn to for honesty and hope and laughter. A woman that is real!

    Thank you for writing this. Thank you for being YOU. You are already more successful than you even know. But I do love those prints and they are gorgeous in those homes! Everything you do is just beautiful. And your children, the beautiful family you and Mike have created together… That is your masterpiece! I couldn’t be more proud to know you or call you a friend. Love you!

    (Ok now I might me ugly crying lol! You grabbed the emotions right out of me!! Xoxo)

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 16:10h, 07 April Reply

      Girlfriend, I give your words right back to you, “It’s not just the flashy home decor and cute shoes or delicious recipes that they’ll want to come here for. They will come back over and over because they can count on you to go beneath the surface. To talk about the things that really matter. A place turn to for honesty and hope and laughter. A woman that is real!” That is you too Summer and I love you for it! I remember when I read your post to your daughter. I could see you, see your heart in that post and I felt so connected to you. Thank you for being my friend, for being a part of this journey with me, and being my Present over Perfect reading pal

  • Molly Sampietro
    Posted at 21:11h, 07 April Reply

    I love this! Thanks for being so honest! I wish I had the courage you have to start a business …and to really make it happen! I lack the confidence to make my dreams into successes. Maybe some day I’ll make it happen. But, in the mean time I’m hanging out at the gym far too long to chat with friends, I have a mile long netflix/Hulu show list, I’m queen of the carpools, and I have to do list that I just keep avoiding! Your an inspiration!! Thanks again for sharing.

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 11:49h, 10 April Reply

      Girlfriend you stay right where you are and just enjoy it. In my blog where I referenced looking backward, it was exactly that—long gym time with my girlfriends and lunch after, carpool and playdates after pickup, and watching Netflix—that’s what I miss the most! And that is what I am going to start stepping back toward. Saying no to the push to prove and the hustle and saying yes to the things that fill me up. Like NETFLIX. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to read the blog girlfriend.

  • Christina Jones
    Posted at 14:18h, 08 April Reply

    I read this in complete awe as I see you as beyond successful. I love your Instagram feed and admire how real you keep things. You are a complete stranger yet I feel so much more connected to you then some of my dearest friends. I can relate so much to feeling the need to push constantly and it’s so overwhelming. I’ve been wanting to start a blog for forever and a day but think why do that when you really don’t have a large Instagram following. Taking the leap is so hard and your words were so inspiring so thank you so much

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 10:30h, 10 April Reply

      Christina your sweet comment meant the world to me. Thank you for the support and encouragement. I hope you will take that leap of faith and start your blogging adventure girlfriend!

  • Nikki Hein
    Posted at 10:34h, 10 April Reply

    Can I just start by saying Thank you! Thank you for saying out loud what so many of us are feeling. Thank you for putting it so plainly that its ok to “pace ourselves”. To not worry about growing our business to the point we loose focus of ourselves or why we even started in the first place. Self struggle is weighing heavy on me right now. As I’ve talked with you in the past, my house in for sale and we already have a rent house in our new little town. (Not IG worthy) Or so I was worried about anyways. We will soon have a ton of projects to post about but it would be awhile before they came to life. I’m a real estate agent and I will be loosing my client tell. All I know is being left behind. Including our dream home we built just a year ago. Stupid questions in my head I’ve worried about…(what will I post? Who wants to see brown granite and beige walls? I don’t even want to decorate a rent house! What the heck will I blog about?) Its so silly!!! I just need to let it go! Thank you sister for sharing your heart! It connects with so many and I would deff call you to take you for a pedi and lunch! 🙂
    You are amazing and I love what you do!

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 11:47h, 10 April Reply

      Girlfriend you said it – LET GO. Such a beautiful, sweet release in just letting go. You will just feel the peace wash over you. As I’m sitting here at my computer I have to fight not to get back drawn into the push – my homework room is a disaster, oh no! I need to get my bedroom refreshed for spring. You know what, no I don’t. It will happen when it happens. I can’t wait to follow your journey and yes I would love to see the rent house too! Why do we feel like we can only share the pretty. Seeing the before only makes the after that much sweeter. Thanks so much Nik for taking the time to read the blog and comment. It means the world to me! Have a wonderful day and keep working girl—working to let go of the push to prove and the endless hustle to get nowhere. Find your peace in rest instead. 🙂

  • Sonja Damazio
    Posted at 12:57h, 10 April Reply

    Love your honesty! There’s not enough of it on social media. I, too, am TERRIFIED of failure so I just don’t try. I hate that about myself. I’m such a perfectionist that I’d rather not do something than fail. I admire you for trying something as big as a new business. That takes guts and even if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried instead of taking the easy way out which is never trying anything new (like me). I’ve been a stay at home mom for 17 years and I am miserable. I enjoyed it when my kids were little but now that they’re teenagers, they don’t need me at home all the time. I’m in such a rut and have isolated myself and don’t know how to get out of it! I know I need to get back to work but I don’t know what kind of work. I’m terrified of the thought because I feel like I have no skills after 17 years of being out of the workforce. I know one day I’ll get the courage to get out there again and I’ll survive. It may not end being a glamorous or cool job but at least I will feel like I’m being useful and contributing. Keep up the good work and don’t give up!

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 13:56h, 10 April Reply

      Sonja thank you so much for taking the time to read the blog. I hope you will find the courage to step out and take a leap of faith and not let your fear control you! We can’t let fear win! The first step is always the hardest girlfriend. You can do it!

  • Melody Gangi
    Posted at 01:49h, 11 April Reply

    Carissa THANK YOU so much for writing this heartfelt blog!! I am relating so much to everything you just expressed!! I mean the pressures we add to ourselves!! I think I had a very similar crying break down last week in front of my 5 year old – scared him – poor thing…. You are definitely not alone!! Fear sucks!!! But you show some courage by putting yourself out there – that shows so much courage!! Try not to be so hard on yourself and remember all that you have accomplished already!! I am so happy I have meet you through IG and got to know you!! YOUR TALENT IS INCREDIBLE!!!!! I mean look at your beautiful art photography in my master!!! I just want to give you a big hug girlfriend!! THANk YOU for my beautiful art and thank you for been you!!
    BTW I had to write this a second time because I forgot the math problem and messed up the back. Button!! Lol!!
    It’s ok because it’s so typical I am so technologically challenged!! LOL!!

    HUGS !!


    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 11:21h, 17 April Reply

      Fear sucks is right girlfriend! I am so thankful to have met you too Melody and I can’t tell you what an encouragement it is to me to keep going to have my art in your gorgeous master!!! Stay strong girlfriend. We can’t let fear win!

  • Amy Pepin
    Posted at 20:32h, 19 April Reply

    I love this! I’m so all about this right now too..In fact, I am having a girlfriend make me a rustic sign for my kitchen that says “Feed the Soul”, kind of a fun play on words…something that speaks to my love for cooking for my family and as a reminder to concentrate my time on things that feed my soul!
    Love all that your doing,

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 06:14h, 20 April Reply

      Amy first of all I MISS YOU and we miss the Pepin Family! Love your “Feed the Soul” sign and I think I need one of those too. Thank you for your sweet encouragement and for taking time to read the blog!

  • Carrie Barker
    Posted at 13:56h, 25 August Reply

    Wonderfully written, CC! I don’t even know how old this post is but somehow I just came across it … and I LOVE it! Thanks for keeping it real and opening up! Love you, girl!! (carrie @carolineondesign)

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