The other day I was on Facebook, killing time more than anything else and reading through status updates from old friends. One is a law professor at Harvard, another is a bigwig for a major international company and still another started his own tech business. Many others are doctors, lawyers, experts in their fields really. Then I looked at my About page and it said self-employed, works at LandLopers.com. Up until last year I had a fancy job title to hang my hat on, one that gave me a lot of self-confidence in addition to regular paychecks. But seeing that About status didn’t make me upset, I didn’t get jealous of my friends. No, instead it made me think about how to define success and how different that is in 2013 than it was in 1993 or even 2003.
What is success?
Up until recently I think I had a pretty good answer to this question. It was a partner who loves me, a nice house, good income and a high quality of life. I achieved that, although it wasn’t easy, and at a relatively young age I began to ask myself, now what? I strove to get to this point as quickly as possible, but once I got there I wondered if there was anything more. I’m not going to go into the philosophical underpinnings of leaving the 9-5 world yet again, so don’t worry. I’ve done that, a lot. But the fact that I was able to leave my job and still be happy doing something unconventional means something; it means that I have redefined success in my life.
Not to sound all hippy dippy, but the basic lesson I learned is that success comes from being happy, that most base of all human emotions. How we get there is how it differs for many, and sadly many others will never get there. For some happiness is what I described, comfortable job, house with all the trimmings and a vacation once or twice a year. That made me happy for a while too, until it didn’t. Once it didn’t I really beat myself about it. What was wrong with me? Why could I never just be content with what I have? Would I ever really find a calling that makes me happy or am I doomed to always seek change for change sake? I found a way I think to finally answer these questions and through it I hope to have found a way to always make sure I’m on the right road for me as I go through life; by never wondering what could have been.
No More What Ifs
Most of us play the mental game of wondering how our lives might be different had we made different choices at key points in our lives. What if I had skipped grad school? What if I hadn’t moved to Washington, DC, and so on. I’ve always hated that though, mostly because I wouldn’t want anything in my life to change, for good or for bad. It all happens for a reason and it is all important to our maturation. But lately I’ve codified this into a way of living my life.
I now refuse to wonder what if, I refuse to second-guess myself and I refuse to ignore my instincts. If a situation or job doesn’t feel right, it will probably never feel right. I’m now determined to do things that make sense for me and not worry about the ramifications. In the short term this can be difficult. From a practical standpoint it has meant telling large companies that no, I will not give them content or advice for free. My time as a professional is worthwhile and no promise of exposure or future work is worth it because it may never come. I have to worry about the here and now and not the promise of a future, I can’t say ‘what if’ when it comes to my happiness.
But I believe the long-term benefits to far outweigh the short-term bumps in the road. By sticking to my guns, I will be more successful because I will be happier. I firmly believe that happiness breeds success and not the other way around.
I believe this is a take away applicable to any situation. If your boss wants you to take on some new duties that you know you won’t be able to manage, tell them. Don’t be afraid of disappointing them because in the long run it’s better than failing at a task you don’t have time to perform. This, this is how we should manage our lives, by being honest with ourselves and others. It’s hard, I grant you that and it takes a fair amount of internal diplomacy to not come across as a jerk, but it’s the only way to be happy, to be successful.
This is what I concluded on a sunny Saturday afternoon recently and I’m curious to hear what you think. How do you define success for yourself and your family and friends? Does it mean that white picket fence or is it something else? More importantly, how do you make sure you attain that level of success and keep it for the long-term, no matter how the definition changes over time?