I hit a rough patch about 6 months ago.
I was frustrated with my lack of progression towards some of my personal goals.
I was working hard on my personal blog, learning how to code, and trying to deliver awesome marketing campaigns for my company.
But something was off.
I wasn’t happy and felt like a failure. I was constantly beating myself up.
To be honest, I probably expected a little too much of myself. I also think my ego got a little inflated and I was expecting recognition for work that wasn’t quite my best.
I started really thinking about how I defined success.
Except I couldn’t come up with a good answer.
I tried writing it down but it just turned into me rambling about stuff that didn’t really matter.
I found that if you aren’t clear on how to measure success you default to talking about money.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
“I will consider myself successful when I am able to provide for my family, have enough money to live comfortably, and buy things that make me happy.”
The problem is that number is different for everyone.
Also, how the heck do you get to that number if you aren’t crystal clear on what the number is?
Isn’t worrying about money a fool’s game? Isn’t it like the mirage in desert? As you get closer to “your number” you push it out a little more and keep grinding?
1 million is great, but 1.2 million is better. Right?
I realized I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. There were plenty of people who are much smarter than me who had this figured out.
So I started reading books about happiness and how to measure success.
Here are a few books I read on the topic.
- The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor
It helped. But it didn’t answer the question of how to measure success to my satisfaction.
I started to ask successful people a simple question.
I asked, “How do you measure success?”
Wouldn’t you know it, that question stopped everyone cold in their tracks.
Not one person, out of the dozen I asked, gave me an answer that made a whole lot of sense.
Rightfully so, because the answer isn’t easy.
By now you are probably thinking, “Alex, I get it, it’s a tough question, but give me some answers.”
Because the answer is different for everyone.
But I will give you a little insight into what I learned about myself, and how it has made me feel 110% better about where I am going in life, and my progression in life thus far.
6 months ago I measured success by
- How much money I made (I wanted to make 60k/yr by the age of 30).
- The car I owned. I wanted to drive a brand new truck (and pay cash for it).
- Where I lived. I wanted to live in a super nice house where everything was new construction and had a modern kitchen (you know the one, you have it saved on Pinterest).
- The vacations I took. I wanted to travel 1 month out of the year, overseas.
- The demand on my time. I wanted to be consulting for other companies because I was so smart and my skills were too legit to quit.
Don’t get me wrong. I still want some of these things but I realized I don’t NEED them.
To quote the famous Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
I was putting all this pressure on myself to achieve success for things way in the future that I didn’t realize what I had at present.
I have a job that pays me well. It’s interesting work. I am learning how to be a better marketer every day.
I have created an app, sure it doesn’t have any users but it exists.
I wasn’t happy because I was getting ahead of myself and defining my success based on a person that I wasn’t yet.
The old saying of you can’t make anyone else happy if you aren’t happy yourself applies here.
In fact, I would say you can’t be happy in the future if you aren’t happy with what you are doing at the present time.
I smile at how foolish I have been.
I laugh at how inflated my ego was.
I have cut myself way down. Not in a negative way. Almost in a stoic way (see stoicism to understand what I mean here).
I told myself, what’s the worst that can happen?
What if I didn’t achieve any of those goals? Would my life be wasted? The answer is NO.
In all honesty, my goals will likely change in the next 5-10 years. How foolish of me to worry about success now.
Last but not least, my big breakthrough moment came to me.
Success, like happiness isn’t something that you should think about. It’s not even something you should chase. It happens at the right place and the right time. Or it doesn’t. But thinking about it often stressed me out and hurt my self-image.
If you chase success constantly, you will be reminded that you don’t have it.
Close your eyes.
Imagine walking out of your house on the first day of Spring after a cold winter. The air is crisp and the sunlight washes over you. You get goosebumps and the hairs on your arms stick up. You inhale the cold air but the sun warms your skin. You smile to yourself.
That is happiness.
You didn’t plan for years for that moment.
But there you are. Soaking up the sun, at peace, content, happy.
I am going to start measuring success by moments like that. When I am at peace with myself and can stop and realize that what I have is good enough.
I am going to cut myself down every couple months to beat back my ego. Instead of saying, man I wish this app had 1,000 active users, I will say, look at this app I have created, 2 years ago I didn’t know the first thing about apps, and now I have something to be proud of.
When the time is right I will be successful…or maybe I won’t at all. But it really doesn’t matter right NOW.
I won’t know when it’s coming, but I will be sitting there silently one day, a smile on my face, and know that something, everything feels right and good and I am where I am meant to be.