You Are Not Behind in Life: Rethinking Success

by Jeff Hittner

Having an honest conversation with ourselves about success — defined in traditional terms — is never easy. But doing so can help us reshape how we view success altogether.

I just completed my 2018 tax forms (a little late) and wow… The thoughts that I am failing have definitely crept in.

My friends serve as partners at banks, law firms, and big consulting firms and I … I just earned in a year what they make in a week.

When we’re trying to build something different or follow an untraditional path, moments of insecurity are a real thing. I spent one day this week trying to write some important content changes to our Project X website. Nothing was coming out as I wanted it. I had a mile-long checklist of changes to make. By 6 pm, I had successfully rewritten one of them.

Checklists and paychecks are our culture’s definition of success on a day-to-day level.

Because we’re obsessed with productivity, our workday is not successful if we don’t accomplish. For many of us, that measure of accomplishment is a long to-do list. If we’re lucky, it’s generated by us. If we’re not, it’s generated by our bosses, our bosses’ bosses, their bosses, the shareholders, and so on.

Then there’s the 10,000-foot view: accomplishment measured by the size of a paycheck. The bigger is the paycheck, the more tangible is the career success surrounding it.

When we’re trying to build something different or follow an untraditional path, moments of insecurity are a real thing

Related: Five Fears that Stop Us from Pursuing Work We Love

So here I was in my — unsuccessful by all traditional measures — day. I accomplished nearly zero items on my to-do list and garnered a paycheck that could purchase a tricycle (a used one at that). The low point was in sight.

Whenever this happens, I fall back on two activities to re-center myself on the purposeful life I choose to live every day:

  1. I look at all the meaningful conversations and experiences I’ve had with people on a given day
  2. I write down all the metrics of success that I have defined for myself

Success: your own definition

In moments of doubt, it helps to review and remind ourselves what our formal definition of success is. Mine is living a values-driven life where each day I support my family and connect with others about the things in their lives that move their hearts. This definition never once mentions a paycheck or a to-do list. If I had remembered that this was what success meant to me, I would see this miserable day in a different light. In fact, I met with two people this same day — one struggling with what career to pursue and another unsure about a family decision. These were profound conversations. They filled my heart.

What outdated definition of success are you sitting with? Rewire your day to move your definition to one that celebrates your self-worth, not your externally-oriented accomplishments, and you’ll be one step closer to living a more authentic life, on your own terms.

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