What does success mean to you? Growing up, I always thought of success much like its dictionary definition: “The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”
Maybe it’s the luxury-loving Leo in me, but it also drove many of my career decisions in my early twenties. In my first real job out of college, I landed a position in the marketing department of a reputable real estate developer. I’ll never forget the feeling of pride when I walked into the office on my first day of work and was handed my very own business cards. After a couple of months of being in that role, I went from mostly working on administrative tasks by myself to being included in important sales and marketing meetings. I received generous bonuses and I even got to fly in a private jet - that was very cool! Family and friends would often remind me how lucky I was to be in that position and how I was destined to be very successful if I continued to climb the corporate ladder. In a sense, they were right: the job had some great perks. I was grateful for the opportunity, especially as a young person fresh out of school. But although the job was perfect on paper, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that this was not where I was meant to be. I also felt a twinge of guilt that I should be grateful to have the position in the first place.
During that period of my life, I had recently discovered podcasts and blogs. In the late afternoons, when the office was quiet and most managers had left for the day, I would pore over fashion and interior design articles and binge-listen to podcast episodes on topics like personal development, creativity, and entrepreneurship. This content was changing my life and my mindset (which was a completely new term to me) and I was beginning to slowly realise this path to success might not be my only, or best option. Although I knew in my gut that something felt off about my job, I did my best to resist the urge to listen to it. I’d never been much of a risk-taker and this cushy job provided a level of security well within my comfort zone. So I stayed. But the meltdowns, stomach pains, and anxiety increased in frequency. After months of unsuccessfully trying my best to mask my discomfort, a person close to me gave me some tough love and told me make a change.
So I did. I started applying to other jobs with a new level of awareness from all the content I was consuming. I now had clarity. I understood my personality strengths and could identify the values which were important to me. In turn, that allowed me to recognise what was important to me in a job and to identify the type of work environment to which I was best suited. After a couple of interviews, I was offered a role as a designer which not only allowed me to utilise the experience I had picked up in my corporate job, it also gave me the opportunity to flex my creative muscles and confidently apply other skills.
Making this change was by far the biggest leap of faith I had ever taken. The new role paid significantly less than my previous position but it felt so right. I knew deep down this was the necessary next step that would lead me down a more aligned path and ultimately open the door to bigger opportunities down the road, which it inevitably did.
This experience taught me four very important lessons about success
It’s okay if your idea of success looks different from that of other people.
Your definition of success will evolve with you.
If success doesn’t bring fulfilment, why would you want it?
The path to success isn’t always linear.
Rather than focusing on the external interpretation of what success looks like, why not focus on what it feels like? Emotion is a powerful driving force but crucially it’s also the piece of the puzzle that connects your need to be successful with your desire to live a happy and meaningful life. Don’t take my word for it in this Positive Psychology article Leslie Riopel, Professor of Psychology at Northwood University reinforces the point. She writes: “Success is much more than mere financial success because you must also feel successful in other areas of life such as love and relationships, health, and more.”