& create your own path
What is success? A high-level career, a six-figure income, holidays in Bali, a big house, marriage. Society keeps throwing these images of success in your face.
You know what your life should look like, and which boxes you have to tick for all the different aspects that make up your existence.
You know what’s expected of you and you feel the pressure to conform, to follow that path. Especially when you feel that things aren’t going exactly right, it’s too easy to feel dissatisfied with yourself. Now, with everyone’s life displayed publicly on social media, it doesn’t take much to feel like a failure.
Look at what all these people are doing. What have I achieved? Nothing.
And it’s not just your own perception of yourself pushing you to conform (and tick those boxes!). We’re social creatures, so you can’t help caring about what other people think of you. There’s the fear of doing something different because people will judge you, especially if you don’t succeed straight away. Especially when the risk is higher. When what you want doesn’t come easily.
So you find it easier to do the expected and hope to find some comfort and success in that normal life.
But maybe we should learn to see society’s image of success differently.
The notion of success is meaningless
It’s hollow. Empty.
It’s completely meaningless because we’re all different and want different things in life. Your version of success won’t mean much to me and vice versa.
For women, getting married and having kids is still seen as a measure of success (more than for men). These are just 2 of the boxes to tick, as part of the normal stages of a relationship. After a few years with a partner, people start asking when you’re getting married.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting marriage or kids, but women who decide on a different path are met with social pressure. People will tell you that it’s just a phase, that you’ll change your mind. Everyone knows better than you what you should want.
Creating an alternative lifestyle isn’t easy. If you don’t have it completely figured out yet, society’s notion of success will be there, in the background of your mind, making you question your choices. You grew up with this image, so it’s easy to want.
Play your own game
In order not to get sucked back into society’s game, you have to build your own and create different rules. Figure out what’s really important to you. It might coincide with society’s path, or not.
Reflect on your values, on what makes you happy, and what you want out of life.
What areas of your life are more important? Free time, parenthood, career, travel, money, usefulness to humanity (or other causes)?
Knowing what’s important to you is a great first step.
Understand the motivations and consequences of what you want.
To follow your path, understand why you want it, and be prepared to prioritise and compromise in other aspects, especially in the beginning. If what you want isn’t easy to get, be prepared, otherwise you’ll give up before you get there.
That doesn’t mean you have to neglect other areas of your life.
But for example, if free time is your priority, maybe you shouldn’t follow a career that requires you to work until 10 pm, even if it comes with professional success or big money.
I almost gave up.
A year ago, I decided I was done with regular, full-time office jobs. What I really wanted was to make my own schedule and work from wherever I chose. This isn’t common. Many people didn’t understand, because ‘everyone has a full-time office job (if they’re lucky), that’s just how life works’.
I don’t care how life works and what everyone else is doing.
Wanting to be not just a freelancer, but a remote freelancer is quite ambitious (outside of Medium, where all the freelance writers live), but I found an opportunity. In the beginning, I only worked part-time, but it was great.
Working part-time meant that I was making much less money than before. By society’s definition, I wasn’t successful. But I felt my own version of success because I was living my way and I was happy.
However, the project ended this summer, and I didn’t have another client. I quickly started feeling like a failure.
It took me a pathetically short time to almost give up and look for a regular job. As I made up my mind to apply for full-time marketing jobs, I felt sad. I had tasted a life I loved, and it was painful to let it go.
So I didn’t give up.
The negative feeling motivated me to try harder. Soon after, I found 2 clients, and I’ve been back on track, working remotely as a content writer for the past 3 months. I don’t need to explain how happy I am for sticking with my ambition when things weren’t going well.
I knew what was important to me, so I prioritised and kept going.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
We’re all living different lives, so it makes no sense to compare yourself with anyone else. You have different circumstances and obstacles. You don’t even know what someone else’s life really looks like. It doesn’t matter anyway.
Social media, in particular, is great at lowering self-esteem. Take it for what it is: everyone sharing an idealised version of themselves. Before feeling down because everyone else has it together and you don’t, realise that online pictures don’t reflect reality.
Only compare yourself to the way you were yesterday, and go forward.
We should also let go of what other people think. While it’s natural to care, don’t let that stop you from doing what you want. Recognize the feeling, and do your thing anyway. Chances are nobody will care. Everyone’s too busy thinking about themselves.
Be patient but determined.
I remember the first time I started feeling like a failure. I really felt like I had achieved nothing in life. I was 22 and in my last year of uni. It’s ridiculous.
This pressure isn’t serving us. It’s great to want achievements, but we need to relax, work for it, and cultivate patience.
My favourite author, José Saramago, didn’t achieve popularity in his field until his 60s. He later won a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Life is not a linear uphill trajectory. We all experience both successes and failures in different stages and aspects of life. This shouldn’t be discouraging but liberating. It’s simply normal. When something isn’t going right, remember that things will change.
Set goals and break them down into manageable steps. This way, even when your goal seems overwhelming, you can take it one step at a time, and move forward.
Live a life you design.
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