Take-Home Message: We all possess unique metrics for measuring success. Stop using others’ to measure yours.
Writer’s Note: This blog was inspired by Chapter 3 of Ash Ambirge’s You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts.
As a senior in college, I went down with a sinking ship. I had been elected nearly a year prior as president of my fraternity (or Noble Ruler, as we called it inside the cult). Have you ever watched a dumpster fire? That’s basically what it was like for me. You just know the fire is out of control, and there’s no stopping it, but a fire that out of control is hard to look away from.
Anyway, so one month before my term ended, I was terminated and evicted from the house. Along with seven of my close friends, most of whom were also in leadership capacities, I packed my shit and hit the road. I won’t bore you with all the details (that’s what the “Ask Me” page is for) because I want to focus on a specific aspect of this trial.
At the time, it was the second biggest failure of my life to date. I crashed and burned. Publicly (Again). At one point, I had even been the patsy on the nightly news over the ordeal. It was a huge mess, and for quite some time, it flat knocked me out of the saddle. At that time in my life, I had no real mechanism for coping with that type of defeat other than impossible amounts of alcohol. (That was an interesting time, too, but another story altogether.)
This explosion, though, was the first step in a series of steps toward taking my freedom back. It led me to much introspection, and the conclusion I was forced to as a result is still among the greatest discoveries I’ve made in my life. I hadn’t been in control of my life prior to this, here’s why: I wasn’t using my own yardstick to measure my success. (Don’t be a pervert, that wasn’t a dick joke.)
Prior to that point in my life, I had been borrowing definitions from the world about what success meant. Trust me on this one, everyone in the world is happy to tell you what he or she thinks success looks like for you. Most of them are fucking idiots. They’re real leeches, and they sap the joy out of lives’. If this is you then stop doing it. You are a right annoying bastard. Seriously. The sickest part of it all, though, is that most of us buy into these fairy tales about health, wealth, happiness, etc. these spin-doctors are propagating without even asking if these things align with our own vision for our lives.
But here’s why I think we’re all so eager to present our vision of success and project it onto others: most of us don’t have the slightest idea what success would look like for ourselves if we were really doing what we loved. So, in order to cope with our own fears and inadequacies, we buy into the “American Dream Theory” and pretend to value things like financial stability, job security, and pension-plans. And in doing so, the picture of what we’re aiming for becomes completely distorted.
Newsflash: there’s no such thing as job security. And what the hell does financial stability even look like? What does a pension plan matter, either? If you’ve never done what you loved, then you’re not done working yet in my opinion. You still have more left to offer the world. You still have more to prove to yourself. You owe it to yourself.
So, after I got run over by the reality train and finally had enough of my self-loathing and moping around, I decided to kick myself in the ass and take back ownership of my life. It started with a few books, some notes, and lists, and then a few hundred more of each. I started looking myself in the mirror more, every day, too, and staring. I hated what I saw most days, but I was ready to overcome that and it became easier with time. Here’s what I did that changed my life:
- I got to know myself. I started narrowing my focus to the things I really enjoyed doing.
I love photography. I started taking pictures more. I live to write. I began journaling and writing down my ideas, though infrequently at first—now I do both every day. I am a nerd. I read every book I could find (See Good Reads for some of my favorites). As this list began developing, the pathway ahead of me came more into focus.
- So, after identifying these for myself, I thought about ways I could monetize some of those hobbies and interests.
Photography and writing were easier than reading. I sought out people who had a need for these and offered my services at what I thought was a fair rate for my time. They weren’t doing me any more of a favor than I was doing them. Participating in this mutually beneficial exchange made the world brighter, too.
- I had my ideas. I had a rough draft of a plan of action and I had some success. Next, I needed guts. These were the hardest to find.
I stood on the ledge for two years waiting to take the leap. I played along the 9-5 charades for a while and tried to save up some money before I tried to embrace this as a lifestyle, not just side-gigs. If you have ideas and dreams, you have to have money before you can do anything, right? That’s a lie I told myself, too. If your ideas are good, people with cash in hand will flock to you. Don’t let anything stand in your way. Not. A. Thing.
So, that’s my short-list, and there are realistically a thousand tiny things inside each of those items. Perhaps your dreams are more complex than mine and harder to monetize. That’s ok. The world needs surgeons and scientists, too. But don’t be afraid to change the game. Maybe your interest is in engineering. Cool, look at Elon Musk. Whatever it is, though, you have to become the arbiter of your life.
It starts with you. Spend some time alone, away from the influences of others. Fall in love with yourself. Explore your own ideas. Figure out what makes you tick. When you identify the intersection of your dreams and tangible things other people want, then just go knock it out of the park. Stop waiting. Get out a notepad and ask yourself, “What do I Want?”