I spent the majority of my young adulthood strung out on the adrenaline rush of a stressful schedule: classes, sports, clubs, work, volunteering…the list goes on. I viewed every part of my life as a line on my future resume, and consequently a measure of my potential success.
Before long, worry and fear were my two best friends and I didn’t know how to stop hanging out with them. I don’t think I wanted to, really. Being so busy meant I was going places; I was going to do big things and my aggressive agenda reflected that. But, if I failed, it revealed the kind of person I was going to be. Failure is, as we all know, an inevitable part of life. But it crippled me.
These failures caused me to spend my days gasping for air between sobs of inadequacy and my nights in full-blown panic attacks. “I suck” was my own personal mantra. If I couldn’t succeed in every aspect of my life, how was I going to amount to anything? How was I going to be successful?
I was defining my life with this one concept, this elusive idea of success. I held onto the notion that once I successful, I would find happiness. I always understood that the former was to be achieved before the latter.
And I wasn’t the only one thinking like this. We tend to have such a clear picture of what success looks like, but we really shouldn’t. Success is a subjective concept, a perception that is understood on an individual basis. No two people would describe success in equal terms.
Some people will find it in a well-paying job, a marriage, and a comfy 401k. Others find it in being a good parent, sibling, or lover. For some, finishing high school constitutes a successful life. And who’s to say it shouldn’t?
Life is a multi-faceted balance of an unpredictable number of things. What matters most to me will probably not matter most to you, if at all. Instead of embracing these differences, however, we start checking things off this universal To-Do List For Success. Problem is, most of us don’t stop to wonder who wrote the damn thing, anyway.
Most people would agree that different things make people happy. I think success should be thought of in the same way. How can different people all assume the same path to success? If we all try to cram onto the same road, we’re bound to get stuck in traffic eventually.
Humans inherently crave a sense of purpose. We want goals to set and a passion to pursue. But so often we’re told what our sense of purpose should be, which goals are worth setting and which passions will yield the greatest reward. We don’t take the time to listen to what we really want. Or we’re so afraid of stepping away from this heavily beaten path to success that we don’t bother to wander a little.
For me, how successful I am is directly proportional to my overall happiness. Like success, happiness can be achieved in so many ways. Maybe it’s time to view happiness and success in the same light. Being happy means that I am successful.
Whatever form it takes, your version is legitimate. There is no finish line to cross, no ribbon to break that announces the winner of the rat race. No one can tell you how or when you are successful because you are the only one who can declare yourself as such.
No, we’re not going to be happy all the time. Should you quit your job or drop out of school because you don’t love every second of it? Not necessarily. But reflect on your current situation, ask yourself what you really want and how to get it. Then listen to the answer. If it doesn’t fit the typical mold, so be it.
I read an article titled “Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, and the number one regret is staggering: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to the choices they had made, or not made.”
In the end, we die alone. Regardless of how, you are the only person who can go with you when you pass. I want to die knowing I did everything in my power to be happy. I am the only one in this world who can ensure that.
It seems selfish. But that’s how we die. Selfishly. Alone. And in the end, don’t you want to know you lived your life on your terms?
So ask yourself the important questions and listen to the answers carefully. What do you believe in that makes your life worth living? Turn off the voice that says you shouldn’t, can’t, won’t or don’t know how. Rarely does anything good come from that nagging doubt. Live a life true to yourself, and avoid that regret so many of us will suffer from.
I believe in positivity. I believe in striving to feel good every day. I believe in health. I believe in love and generosity and gratitude. And above all else, I believe in myself. I believe that as long as I am happy, and therefore successful, I can do whatever I set my mind to.
That’s my version. What’s yours?