Sometimes your rock bottom can look a lot like being at the top to everyone else.

Flashback six years: I’m sitting on a private jet, sipping an espresso, newspapers from all over the world neatly stacked beside me, on my way to Brussels for work, and … an essential piece of my life is broken.

It’s my blackberry.

It’s locked, courtesy of my two-year-old daughter, and I want to chuck it out the window I’m so overwhelmed.

My mind’s racing ahead to all the unanswered emails, all the missed calls, the headache of figuring out how to get it fixed while traveling and racing from one meeting to the next.

And that’s when a quiet calm sets in and I hear, “Whose script is this, anyway?”

By society’s definitions of success, I was living the dream: rising executive at a Fortune 500 firm, publications, awards, husband, daughter, marathon medals, Jimmy Choo heels….

Yet, inside those designer shoes, I felt cramped. And that’s not the only signal of stress, or distress, my body was sending. My skin was dry. My hair was fried with yet another make-’em-stay-straight treatment. My smile was gone. (And you know you can’t fake a smile — it’s in the crow’s feet.)

And here’s what the next layer down looked like: Frantically packing for yet another trip, freaking out when my daughter decided my blackberry was a toy, scrambling all the way to the airport in failed attempts to “reconnect.”

On that plane, flying toward Brussels, while everything in my body was flying in the opposite direction… And, what really worried me was realizing that even if I’d had a working blackberry, I’d still be in this mayday mode.

How come no one told me that being successful could feel so miserable?

It was clear to me now: Chasing gold star after gold star, coupled with unrealistic ideas about “balance,” was not a sustainable way to live.

Yet it’s very likely I could have gone on collecting badges at an ever-increasing pace if it hadn’t been for that visceral nudge that day on the plane: Who am I doing this all for, anyway?

Was I living for me? Was I honoring my values? What were my values? If I wasn’t living for me, then who – or what – was it all for?

And that’s when I began to realize: we all care about living and working sustainably, it’s just that we’ve been defining that inadequately.

Most of us  think “sustainability” means tracking our emissions and reducing waste. But that ignores the truth that our greatest and most precious resource is us! Our people!

We’re distracted by the pollution outside our windows or measuring the piles in our dumpsters—and while these things absolutely do matter—that macro view has made our micro solution invisible.

WE are the missing variable in this equation, yet we’re told to look outside ourselves for the solution.  

In fact, everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with what the Italians call l’imbarazzo della scelta — the embarrassment of choice: You need this {system, product, whatever} to be happy, feel better, look good…

All supporting the idea that we’re just not enough and that the ‘next best thing’ can fill that void. Only that quarterly driven Band-Aid approach to our problems just doesn’t work in the long run.

Pursuing the answer to that question of long-term sustainability is what led me to create a new definition of the word—what I call, “sustain ability,” the ability to sustain yourself.

My theory is simple: Change starts within you. You are the answer to the riddle.

And what I mean by that is: Each of us is like a cell that serves the larger body—whether that body is a community, a company, or the natural world we live in. We each have specific advantages and DNA that only we can contribute. But if we lose sight of what that individual contribution is, we start chasing everyone else’s standards. Burnout, constant comparison, and disconnection are merely the initial side effects of this approach.

But as the greatest resource our communities and companies will ever tap, the path to sustain ability starts within us, not with our output. We are more than an assembly line.

It’s time to respond by design, and not by default.

Click here to download my quick and free TEDx IDEA guide to rethink success, redefine sustainability, and unlock the confidence to lead with intuition!