Changing My Definition of Success

As I mentioned in my last post on walking the well-defined path in life, I’ve been pretty good at finding success along the way. I got good grades, went to a top university, worked my way up the ladder in prestigious law firms, and made a lot of money for my age. My concept of success has always been based on what other people thought.  I was happy when I achieved success.  But in many cases, that happiness was short lived.  True happiness is deeper than the veneer of basking in the temporary glow of what others think about you — it requires being true to yourself.

As I continue on my current journey, my past successes will start to fade to black.  And as I am no longer on the traditional path to success, I should not expect further accomplishments of that nature.  I cannot continue to rest on these types of accomplishments to sustain my self esteem.  Nor should I, because part of the point of changing paths is to effectuate a paradigm shift in my life.  I refuse to be like the 40-year old who lived his glory days as a popular kid in high school.  I need to completely revamp the way I think about myself.

This will be a tough challenge.  First of all, I feel like society is against me.  I’m now someone who is actively opting out of the “American Dream.”  I’m one of those losers who isn’t even counted in the denominator of unemployment statistics.  Less than a month into our travels, my parents are already asking if I’ve found what I’m looking for and if I’ve thought about going back to the firm.  I need to put on my blinders to all of this noise and listen to my inner voice.  But at this point, my inner voice doesn’t quite know what to say…

What are the metrics for success when you take away money, job, title, possessions, etc.? Not a whole lot since success really is defined by what others think about you.  Since everyone is programmed by society in basically the same way, they are going to judge by the only metrics they know how.

Maybe the bottom line is success should be irrelevant to my self esteem.  Success is a distraction, as at the end of the day it goes back to what other people think about you.  What matters is what I think about myself.  I will think more highly of myself if I’m engaged and doing things I care about and taking care of the people I care about.  Indeed, I’ve found myself admiring people who were simply pursuing their passions and listening to their inner voice.  Maybe I was admiring them simply because I was not capable of doing that at the time, but I think it was more than that.  I think it was because I knew on a subconscious level that they were living their lives to the fullest and that is all that anyone can ask for in this lifetime.

 

 

17 thoughts on “Changing My Definition of Success

  1. I feel the same way at the moment, and it was as if you were writing about my life. It made me tear up a bit. Thank you for writing this.

  2. I imagine this will be a challenge for me as well. It might help to think of your earlier school/career goals as already being achieved. You already “won” that game. After making partner at a big firm, what else is there besides more money?

    Now it is time for a new game. For example, my hobbies are trail running and woodworking. My new challenges will be something like “run a trail marathon in the top 10 races around the world” or “build a walnut dining table that I can sell for a profit”. Others may not get this new game, but if you are passionate about something than others will likely gain a sense of appreciation or even admiration for what you are doing.

    In the end it is your journey and you are fortunate enough to have already won the game that most others struggle with throughout their lives.

    • sounds like getting off of one hamster wheel and onto another. finding new things to call success that will impress other people –did a top 10 ‘this’– sold ‘this’ for $X. maybe focus on something more humbling or seemingly less self aggrandizing.

      • This is how I feel at this moment in my life.  It is as if you were writing about my life.  I teared up a bit reading this. Thank you for this.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Totally agree it is time for a new game! I fully intend to pursue my hobbies to their fullest as well. Right now golf and photography take up a lot of my time. Personal finance is still up there, and there is always travel. Been thinking of some lifestyle design choices to unify some of those hobbies and may post about that soon.

  3. “But at this point, my inner voice doesn’t quite know what to say…”

    In my case, it wasn’t that my inner voice didn’t know what to say, it was that I didn’t know how to listen. Once I slowed down and learned to listen, it turns out it was screaming to me the whole time. I don’t want to speculate, but you might find the same to be true for you.

    “Indeed, I’ve found myself admiring people who were simply pursuing their passions and listening to their inner voice. Maybe I was admiring them simply because I was not capable of doing that at the time, but I think it was more than that. I think it was because I knew on a subconscious level that they were living their lives to the fullest and that is all that anyone can ask for in this lifetime.”

    Yes! In a strange way, I think it’s a bit of a curse to have been born into a situation where financial “success” was both possible and expected – at least for me, and maybe for you too. (Side note: I’m not complaining about any privileges I was born into, I’m just acknowledging that it’s a double edged sword). But now that I’ve shunned that old life (after early retirement, much like you) and started a new one – one where I’m not at all gifted in – it’s been much easier to listen to that inner voice and to live each day to the fullest. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t have the strength to do that while bound to my old career.

    Anyways, best of luck to you.

    • Thanks for your insights as always, BNL. You’ve been ahead of the curve on this and other issues, so I value your input. I think your comment “In my case, it wasn’t that my inner voice didn’t know what to say, it was that I didn’t know how to listen” sounds pretty spot on to me. Hopefully over time, I will be able to do a better job of following my inner voice over the cacophony from the outside world.

  4. I was talking to my boss about some personal stuff the other day and he said “Life gets in the way of work sometimes.” And I was thinking in my head “Work gets in the way of life ALL the time.” It’s sometimes hard to flip the switch.

  5. You’re metrics driven. It’s in your DNA. Give yourself new metrics that matter to you.

    1) How many people less fortunate than I did I help today?
    2) How many people did I compliment today?
    3) How did I use my skill set to impact the world positively?

    Even though I’m still working my main job and my side projects, I spend a lot of time on volunteer boards, and I find it energizing to be around like-minded individuals who are taking the time to impact society in a good way. As you move into new goals, try to spend some time around people that share those same goals so you get reinforced for the things you’re doing now. That’s often good protection against your doubters or those that just think you’re on a long vacation so you spend less time second guessing and more time doing good. Your parents love you – they just want to make sure the wheels aren’t falling off your life bus 🙂

    • Those are good tips — I appreciate it. Hopefully, I will be able to see first hand the human experience in lesser developed areas during our travels. Maybe it will spark a feeling of a need to help others. I’ve been very inwardly focused for the last few years so this will be new territory for me.

  6. Um, to the extent you’re still depending on external measures of success and what others think of you, haven’t you achieved most people’s dream??? Isn’t the stereotype of American life and “success” working hard at a job (that the person often hates), saving enough money to eventually retire, followed by “freedom” and travel and other leisurely pursuits? You’ve outsmarted the system. You’re living “the life” and have obtained “freedom” decades earlier than most of your peers. You’re traveling and doing whatever you want while they are beholden to jobs and paychecks. You’re traveling while still young rather than waiting until you’re old and frail or dying on the job. I’d say that’s success. While you’re worried about others judging you, most of them will be wasting their energy being envious of you and your lifestyle.

    Also, great advice from the other commentor who wrote about focussing outside yourself. When you return to the US, fill your time with volunteering and helping others. It’s the best way to stop focusing unhealthfully on yourself.

    • Thanks MK. That’s a good way to look at it. Part of me still wants to compare to the “me” on the lawyer track. But that’s futile. Too many forks in the road of life.

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