Redefining Success: It’s All in a Feeling

This is part of a Q&A series featuring women who have found success on their own terms in the mindful age. For more stories like this, click here.  

World traveler and Wanderlust photographer Ali Kaukas doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about success. (“It’s not something I particularly strive for,” she says.) Ali tends to see the world through a different lens, where her feelings—rather than her mind—guide her path, and challenges are conquered with quietude. Talking to Ali, it all seems so simple… And maybe it really is, if we learn a few of her photography tricks and see the world through curious but calm observation.

How do you define success?

By feeling really full in life. I’m in the present moment, creating and evolving. It’s when I feel a lot of love around me. When I am putting out good energy and engaging with the world, both with humans and nature, by being an observer and participant. And when I feel like I am in that place where I am in the flow, where all is aligned and there is not too much resistance.

How did you come to that definition?

When I’m in that state there’s a positive charge. I’m feeling good in my heart in my mind, so I know that’s what I’m striving for. It’s feeling-based, even if it looks weird in my mind. 

What does a “fulfilled” life look like to you?

It looks exactly like how my life feels now. I always want to be evolving and observing other human beings. I don’t have too many desires for the future, but I want to be deeply engaged with what’s going on right now. 

What are you most proud of?

I don’t feel very proud of myself but I don’t not feel proud. [My pride] is in so many little moments. With photographing for Wanderlust, that was a go with the flow moment. I didn’t see myself being a photographer for Wanderlust. I volunteered with one of their festivals and they asked me to take some photos. When I said yes, it just opened another door.

How has being a photographer changed the way you see the world and yourself?

I try to observe from a blank state: where I am in the moment photographing and not in my mind. I am feeling all that is going on around me. Not judging the situation, just watching so I can learn about life and the ways that all different humans live their lives and act.

More than changing the way I see, having my camera allows me to be in a constant state of observation. It allows me to look straight into your eyes—and that’s where the goods are.

What were the challenges you faced and how did you surmount them?

The rockiest moment of my life was after college, not knowing which direction to go in, and feeling stagnant. So I was always taking photos and I wasn’t making money off of it. But my mom told me, “Just get in your car and take photos.” I dedicated a year to photography and self-teaching, with no goal, and no outcome.

If any challenges come up in my life I really have a good ability to step outside of my own body and to look at what is happening and to make decisions outside of myself. I don’t get so lost that I can’t unravel it. This moment is going to pass. I say that with the positive moments as well. I don’t get attached to the highs either: This is just in this moment. So for the challenging moments it’s the same: This is the way it is now, but it’s going to change.

What do you consider your #ActuallySheCan moment?

The day I turned 30 I happened to be in New York City by myself. I took myself out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had different encounters with people that were so beautiful. It was this feeling that all I need is in myself and I didn’t feel a lack of anything because I wasn’t with someone. That felt so powerful in my own being. 

What are words of inspiration for someone else also facing a challenging moment in their life?

Be brave. Go into nature, go to the water. That’s what I do. Feel the wind, feel the sunshine on your body. Try to let clarity come through the natural elements.

What is the best advice you have received that you wish to pass on?

Be Yourself. If you don’t know what that means, go out and be by yourself.  You will meet yourself there.

Written for ActuallySheCan by Julie Balter