Notes on defining success
I read somewhere recently that comparison is an addiction to losing, and, oh man, did it hit home.
One of the biggest things I struggle with is comparing myself to others—friends, acquaintances, strangers on the internet—and feeling like a failure because I’m not succeeding in the same ways they are. Never mind that I’m not even actively trying to achieve what they are (endless examples include: when someone announces a pregnancy / buys a house / that they’ve traveled to 100 countries / that they’ve gotten a book deal). And it’s started to drive home the point to me that how you define success reflects your priorities.
Does success look like a big house filled with family? an ever-fattening bank account? a corner office with big responsibilities? endless exploration around the globe? all or none of the above?
A hippie in Vietnam once told me that he’s happy as long as he’s healthy and rich as long as he has no debt, and it’s a philosophy that I try to guide how I think about success–even though it can be tough in the thick of jealousy.
To me, success is having enough money in the bank to live the life that I want to live—and it’s having the time, space and will to spend the money on the life I want to live.
It’s certainly about doing well in my chosen career: a big reason why I chose to pursue sales was because it’s such a clear definition of success. You make your quota or you don’t: I don’t have to waste much headspace over worrying whether I’m doing a good job or not. But it’s also about making sure I have a life outside of work: success to me is also a happy marriage, a comfortable home, a commitment to travel near and far.
Our decision to move across the country is a huge expression of how we define success. Although we were doing well in Brooklyn—good jobs with plenty of professional opportunities, a nice apartment, an incredible community of friends and family—it felt like we were never going to be able to achieve the success we wanted. Namely: a house, a backyard, a non-anxiety-inducing commute and a more laid-back lifestyle.
New York City is the epicenter of ambition and a place that’s overwhelmed with wealth, and it’s easy to get lost in that. One of my friends once told me that New York City is the only city where it’s an achievement just to live there, and I agree: there’s a certain element of making it if you just manage to survive.
When we visited San Diego, we both felt like we could be happy there. One day (not too far in the future), we could afford to buy a house with a yard. We could play tennis and surf and hike, activities that would keep us healthy and engaged. We could spend more time together and less in a crowded subway. Success could be a lifestyle, instead of something that always seems just out of reach.
I know that it’s going to be hard for me to keep the tendency to compare in check–especially when all of the glory of a city left behind is presented in beautifully-filtered Instagram glory, sans crushing humidity and sweaty subway delays. But I’m hoping that part of this cross-country move can be a move to a more intentional type of success, a focus on thriving instead of just striving.