Stop Defining Success By What Other People Think You Should Do With Your Life


Something happened this week that I haven’t experience in quite some time: I cried. And believe me, I’m not one to use my tears lightly. I’m the type of person who believes everything heals with time, and if this day is shitty, then the next one will be better. So when I found myself feeling that “all is lost moment” that usually happens at the end of Act II in every movie, I found myself contemplating every life decision I have made that lead up to this moment. I started questioning myself, my decisions, my life, my purpose, and most of all, my own intelligence and self-worth. And I know what all of you are thinking — does this have to do with a break-up? And the answer is no, this has absolutely NOTHING to do with a guy. This has to do with something so much bigger than that – my career.

In any industry — whether it is entertainment, business, finance, law, medicine, whatever —  there is always going to be incredible competition. In this day in age, where we are known to be “the entitled” generation, we just expect to be successful after completing our 4 years of college. Here’s my degree! Woohoo class of [___]! Where’s my amazing job?! But with the economy on financial lock-down, and us recent college grads receiving the same paycheck as those who were doing the same job 20 years ago, we are all just left hopeless with our dreams shattered.

Many of us who don’t still live off mom and dad’s credit cards need to buck up and get a job that will pay the rent, whether it has anything to do with our career aspirations or not. We all need to think about the short-game as well as long game — which is why when I was rejected from yet another job I wanted, it was time to take off the boxing gloves and get out of the ring. I needed just one second to break down, cry, and stop fighting.

While I am still employed at my agency job, I contemplated the idea of quitting. I know that would have been the wrong decision for so many reasons that have nothing to do with my paycheck, but I didn’t care at that specific moment. All I cared about was getting back that feeling of happiness and fulfillment again, which is something that I know this job can’t give me anymore. It’s like that famous John Lennon quote “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

So much of what we talk about, think about, and who we chose to date, has to do with what a person does professionally. Our self-worth is being tied in with our careers and not who we are as people. We are taught at a young age to get good grades, to go to a good college, to get that power-fueled career, to eventually……what? Be happy because we are what society labels us as “successful?” Or should we all just take a lesson from John Lennon and realize that maybe happiness doesn’t stem from your career but rather how you view the world and yourself in general?

Are those who chose to run off to Thailand and become yoga instructors really the ones winning the race? I think it’s not so much what you do, but what in turn makes you feel fulfilled. Some are impartial to their jobs and find their passion elsewhere, and some (like me) rely on their careers to feel like they have a purpose. Everyone is different and will chose their own path in life, but I’ve realized that though society’s standard of “success” caused my quarter-life crisis, it’s not necessarily how I feel about my own life. It’s that dreaded question “so what do you do?” that causes this deep rooted feeling of anxiety and sickness in the pit of my stomach. The idea that this person, whom you probably don’t even know, is judging you based off of one simple answer. We all need to feel like we are constantly moving up and moving forward as opposed to standing still, which is why when I didn’t receive my instant gratification, it felt like I would be stuck in the mud forever.

And then I realized something: what unifies us as humans is that we all just want to find our place, our purpose and most importantly, our happiness.

So yes, three days ago, I cried my eyes out, and then I realized that everything is going to be okay. While I do rely heavily on my future career to be the key factor in my own personal fulfillment and satisfaction, I now know that it is my choice and my happiness that matters, not other people’s perception of what they believe to be “successful.” After speaking with one of my bosses about my concerns, she let me in on a few key things to keep in mind when trying to build a career:

1. Everyone wants what you want – it’s up to you to decide if you’re willing to fight for it.

2. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.

3. Only the strong survive — if everyone could just float to the top, they would.

4. This is your time to see what’s a fit and what isn’t. You might be surprised at what you find out about yourself in the process.

5. Take a risk.

6. Each job is a stepping stone. Try for the ones where you will really learn something, not ones with just “the glamorous name.”

7. You never know who you will meet, who you will cross paths with in the future, and who will end up helping you in the end. Always network, always be courteous, and never burn bridges.

8. Be as well-rounded as you possibly can.

9. The people who move up too quickly are normally the ones that don’t make it to the finish line.

10. Your next job will most likely not be the one you will get promoted at, and that’s okay.

featured image – Josh Angehr