Success! … or Not.

On Tuesday something strange and new happened: I thought about success. It hadn’t ever occurred to me before, this idea of success. It has always been something to achieve, a place to get to, but not somewhere I’d been before. But I realized, while rocking out to my iPod at work, charting an excel sheet, and watching the minutes slooowwwlllyyy tick by – I actually think I’m successful. I really do. I don’t have tons of money,Β  I don’t yet have the career I want, but I’m really, really happy. Like… the most content I’ve ever been in my entire life. Truly. And I’m doing things in this world that I’m proud of. Success, it made me feel good.

But then I also thought that other people, probably lots and lots of other people, people close to me and far from me, most likely do not think I am successful. I don’t own a home, I don’t have a manager’s position, I have major (exciting) goals for myself in the next 5 years but they may all fail miserably, we don’t have tons of savings, we can’t afford all the things we wish we could (do you ever?), and we very much are still building our lives. So how can I be a success already?

So it got me wondering what other people thought, so I asked the internet. From the facebook page I asked “I have a question for you… like a real one I would love for you to respond to: Do you consider yourself successful? Explain please.” And then later, “Regardless of how you feel, do you think other people view you as successful or not?”

I was surprised by those who responded with no, especially those who I personally think are huge successes, way more successful than I probably will ever be. But for those who did think they were rockin’ it out, a lot of them boasted personal successes above professional/monetary success. Maybe when you’re really happy that’s all the success you need, maybe the things that people can measure – $$ and status – and the things that the outside world judge you by, play no part in your own idea of being successful. And maybe this is an ideal scenario, and only is 1/2 truth. Because my job and our growing careers are part of my idea of success. It’s a big combination of things, and maybe it’s just too personal to pin down to a formula.

But I want to ask you, and I really want to know the truth: Are you successful? What makes you feel like you are or aren’t? Do you think other people would view you as successful? Why?

What is this success thing? How do we know we’ve gotten there?

35 thoughts on “Success! … or Not.”

  1. Have to say, this one cut a little close . . . I think that I have enjoyed other people thinking I was a success for years — I have a fairly prestigous job and make a good amount of money. But I never personally felt like much of a success since those weren’t things I necessarily set out to achieve.

    Now that I’ve decided to leave that job to make a huge leap and much, much less money, I personally feel like I’m closer to achieving what I want to do (i.e., success) while my family and friends are sort of left scratching their heads. And their lack of understanding/support leaves me a little non-plussed, a little doubtful of my own decision, even though I know, I know! it’s the right one for me.

  2. Well I answered on facebook but here goes again:

    “Umm this is difficult to answer . On a personal level I would say yes. I am blessed with the best hubs ever, and friends and family. I have been lucky to travel, and study and I have a job. I am also good at concentrating on the positive (at least I try to force myself to, when it is hard) and to enjoy the small things in life. However I constantly beat myself up, because professionally I am not working in the field I studied so long for, and it is hard to change that situation.”

    The thing is I am really having trouble coming to terms with the career thing because I feel really passionate about it, because it is the way *I * would feel I am doing something relevant in the world…

    But I am also kind of learning that maybe a job is just something that pays the bills. That happiness is more important and I am in a happy place now (personally) . And that the whole *working in what you trained for* and being fulfilled at work feeling what you do is transcendent is a luxury and a matter of luck or things we can not control .

    1. *But I am also kind of learning that maybe a job is just something that pays the bills. That happiness is more important and I am in a happy place now (personally)*

      YES. Agreed. I think that having a job you love and trained for just adds to the happiness that equals success.

  3. I think other people view me as successful. I have a “good” job in my field. I live in a small town like we’ve wanted to. I have a wonderful fiance and the world’s sweetest dog. We own a house and a rental property (and owe VERY little on them) and also own 80 acres with the most gorgeous view ever.

    I agree that a lot of that makes me feel successful. I take great pride in paying down our debt and building our assets. I LOVE my little family. But you know what? The job part? The thing I was supposed to excel at? I HATE IT. Loathe it. I come home from work stressed out in a way that only sleep can repair. I wake up cuddled with Forrest totally happy only to go to work and repeat the cycle. I’ll consider myself much MORE successful when I quit my job. When I wake cuddled up in Alaska, Utah, or wherever we happen to be. πŸ™‚

  4. Success is tricky. Right now, I’m unemployed at home working on finding a job and dabbling in a couple of my own creative projects and working on making my already great relationship even better. I’m actively working on building the life and lifestyle my fiance and I want to have.

    Five years ago I would have said this was not success just on the basis of no job.

    But you know what? I’m happy. I’m starting to realize that even though I had always invisioned career success as being a big part of my adult life that it’s really not something that makes me happy. And if I’m not happy, it doesn’t matter how many “milestones” I’m hitting career and pay-wise I won’t feel successful.

    Right now I’m finding that the tricky thing for me is figuring out how to fit work/career back into my lifeplan and my idea of success.

  5. This is really interesting to me, actually. Ironically, -I- feel like I am a success most of the time (at least mostly): I am married to a lovely lady, we started two businesses in our early 20s, and although I’m working at a day job that I don’t adore, our bills are all paid on time. However…. I was an honors student in high school (and in the top ten of my graduating class), I got a degree with a major and a minor and graduated summa from college, and now… I’m not working in the field I studied for (because even though I HAD a good job in that field, I got laid off… womp womp), I haven’t done anything amazing like win a Fulbright (not that I applied or even want one) and I find myself defending my ‘survival job’, like, ‘Oh… yeah… I’m working there, but just to pay the bills. What I REALLY want to do is photography, and that’s what we’re working toward.’ I mostly feel sad that I’m sort of embarrassed that I work in admin, and it’s not special or fancy or anything. I AM grateful that I have a job that pays our bills. I just wish I could be proud of it.

  6. There is part of me that would normally say, ‘Not so much’. There are many things in my life that I feel would make me less than successful. Then when I step back and look, I have to remind myself that I am not looking at things clearly.

    This question actually recently came up within my family. After my grandmother passed away in February, my aunt and my mother started fighting. The fight was mostly how my aunt thought that my brother and I are horrid ingrates who deserve nothing from the estate. She made more than one comment about us being failures and worthless. This hurt a lot but it really made me step back and look at myself and ask ‘What about my life is a failure?’

    And I came up with nothing.

    I am happily married to a man I love and loves me. It isn’t a perfect marriage but we are not deluded to think any marriage is perfect. We are almost at 10 years which is statistically better than most Americans.

    We both have jobs that pay pretty well. They aren’t the best jobs in the world or our dream jobs, but they pay the bills with money left to do things we like. We aren’t rolling in money but we are almost comfortable. That is also statistically better than most of America.

    I own my own home and two cars. I have hobbies that I am really good at. I am pursuing my passions in several ways, all of which are currently receiving praise.

    So what if I didn’t finish college, and I don’t have any savings, or any children, or a house with working plumbing in all the rooms that have plumbing. Those are little things that can be fixed or don’t matter.

    I am happy, healthy, productive member of society, with a large support group of people who love me, and the ability to freely express my passions, and live comfortable with my family of choice.

    Yea I would say that is a success.

  7. Here is what I’m thinking and what I’m seeing: I think it DOES matter how you spend the bulk of your day. What your job is, and feeling fulfilled by it even in the most basic ways (and whatever that means to you). I think personal success is directly correlated to what we are working on, and I don’t think there is any shame in admitting that. Trying to “transcend” identifying and placing self worth on what we are paid to do or how we spend the bulk of our waking ours is asking too much, I think.

    It’s ok to place importance on careers and jobs. And I think it’s important to find fulfillment in that category of our lives. Really.

    1. I do agree–BUT, I think it’s also ok to say, “This job I have isn’t what I want to be doing, it’s a stepping stone, and that’s alright.” Because, you know. Life happens πŸ˜‰

      But I do think ultimately, it’s important to work towards a place where you can take pride in your day-to-day work, whatever that may be.

      1. That’s exactly what I mean though. I think being satisfied with where you are RIGHT NOW – as opposed of feeling like GAH THIS SUCKS SO MUCH (regardless of if you think you SHOULD be thinking “I’m ok, I’m ok for now”) is the key. Like, I am not going to have my day job, this particular one forever. It’s not my end goal, but that’s ok. It doesn’t rub me the wrong way, I still feel successful. But if your day job isn’t where you want to be and it’s sucky and frustrating and brings you down – that matters.

        1. “But if your day job isn’t where you want to be and it’s sucky and frustrating and brings you down – that matters.”

          OH yes. Totally agree. That shit ain’t worth it.

    2. For me yes and no. Working a full time job is giving a THIRD of your day to someone else, so it is a big deal, and what you do with that part of your day is important. So to go to a “just a paycheque” job that I really dislike would be a big problem. I don’t want to be miserable in the third of my life I am away from the things that I WANT to be doing.

      I’ve also been really examining what role career is going to play in my life and the more I think about it the less important it is to me. Part of this stems from the fact that I absolutely yearn to be a stay at home mom for the first few years of my children’s lives and only work part time once they are in school. Which, in turn, has de-emphasized the role of a career in my own personal definition of a successful life.

      Coming to the realization that a career will not give me what I want out of life has really made me re-examine how “success” and “career” fit together.

      I’m also wondering if the economy and the issues that new graduates in the last few years have faced finding jobs at all (let alone in their field) has shaped the definitions of success that young adults have.

  8. Also!! I feel like most of the comments are saying “Yes I am a success and I don’t care what anyone else thinks!” And though I think this is great, I want it to be ok for people to say “NO!! I’m not where I where I want to be, I’m far from it.” I’ve felt that way for the bulk of my life, and I’m sure I’ll feel that away again. For various reasons, I’m sure.

    And it’s also ok to be mad at the people who don’t think you’re successful when you think you are. I am. It’s really frustrating.

    Anyways, carry on. πŸ™‚

    1. My comment started out as “Everyone thinks I’m a success but I’m not.” And as I typed it it turned into “My job sucks but I’m pretty F*cking awesome.”

      1. I like it a lot. I feel like as people are writing they are realizing things are better than they thought they were. OR they start off on one foot and end on another. It’s def a fabulous side effect. πŸ™‚

  9. “But then I also thought that other people, probably lots and lots of other people, people close to me and far from me, most likely do not think I am successful.”

    Success is SO personal. I really think you have to measure it on your own terms. It’s easy to think, “Oh, I don’t have XYZ, I need to have XYZ to have successful…” but I think chances are, XYZ are someone else’s measure of success.

    I saw you post this one on Facebook, but didn’t respond because I didn’t really know the answer right away. But after thinking about it…yes, I do consider myself successful. I’m not in the EXACT job I want. But I work in my chosen field. I haven’t achieved all the pie-in-the-sky goals I want. But I’m working towards them. I don’t own a house, but I’ve thoughtfully created a home.

    Could I be more successful? Yes. Specifically, I could work harder towards my pie-in-the-sky goals. That’s something I’m struggling to figure out right now, how I can steal more time to work toward them and achieve the future success I envision for myself. But it’s all baby steps.

  10. Wow Lauren, you are speaking to my BRAIN right now! Or maybe this is a just-married-twenty-something thing? My 63 year old mother keeps telling me that you won’t know success until you can someday look back on it and realize how successful you were. But that, to me, shows that we cannot enjoy the moment as much as we should. And that is just SO HARD when you are constantly looking to what’s coming next – those big huge goals you have for the next 5 years. What’s just around the corner. Does that equal success? Or just the next step to it? Kind of a mind-f*ck, eh?

  11. I have been very lucky. In my life (56 years, 38 working) I’ve only worked in four different companies and one of them was a family business, so I think constancy is an important part of success.
    I am successful in that I love what I do for a living (TV Director) and make good money doing it. I’m not rich but can afford eat outs, travel and fun.
    I can measure this success with the respect that people have for me; how they follow my every instruction; the trust they have in me.
    I help people. From the homeless to co-workers to family to friends and that gives me satisfaction. Is this being successful? I guess…
    I consider myself a good human being.
    I have love in my life.
    That is my success.

  12. I know that this is going to sound really corny, but I don’t care. I feel that my success has been because of you. Raising a child to adulthood and seeing that the child has a happy life, a potential future with a really good man and goals for her future is not an easy task for anyone. I don’t want to think that my success is surrounded by the life of another, but then that is the way that it really is. I feel that my life with my wife (your mother) has been a huge success. Seeing how you have made decisions all of your life and taken risks, challenges and made good choices most of the time is very successful. I think that if you spend your day or most of your day working at something that you like (maybe love) but the goal is to spend time with others that you like and love, how can you be anything but successful. O.K. I’ll get off my soap box. You make me successful.

  13. This question makes my brain feel funny. Like I mentioned on facebook, I feel like my knee jerk reaction to this question is no and then I proceed to rattle off all the things I still need to accomplish. BUT, I’m happy. And I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of. SO, maybe? Maybe the over-achiever in me will never be satisfied? Who knows.

    I’ve got a super fabulous boyfriend, a job that is letting me work with interesting people while I figure out what I want to do, and great friends. We have enough money to save a little and keep ourselves in moderately priced champagne (priorities, friends).

    Lauren, I hear what you’re saying about work. And that has been the thing that has most affected my feelings of satisfaction. I’ve managed to find work that is not objectively awful and even gives me health insurance, paid vacation, and schedule flexibility. But, I really have no idea what I want to do. The hobbies and outside of work activities I find most satisfying are not things that translate into careers, or at least careers I would like.

    To sum it up: I would describe myself as proud of my hard work but ready to tackle more.

    1. It’s ok to want more. I think sometimes we feel ashamed of it because we should be grateful for what we have. But I think we can do both. It’s ok to want the MOST for yourself, and still appreciate where you’re at.

      It’s important to keep reaching.

  14. Ok…so I’ve been reading the comments, and pondering how I would respond to this question.

    Now, do I drive a fancy car, live in a nice house, and have a bank roll that would make people jealous? No. I drive a 2001 Dodge Neon, rent an old house that barely keeps in the heat, and have a moderate amount of savings. If you measure “success” by material objects then no, I am not successful.

    However, am I fulfilled in my job, my relationship and my current position in the life goals that I am working towards? Yes. Whole heartedly YES. This is how I like to measure my success.

    24 year old me had no direction, and was on a clear path of destruction. 30 year old me is married to an amazing man, has 2 adorable puppies, a job that makes me feel respected and valued, and clear life goals that I (we) are constantly working towards. I am leveling up my life every day, and to me, that is pure success honey. I am happy and I feel fulfilled with what I have because I have worked damn hard for it.

    I may not be the “most” successful in anyone’s eyes, but at the end of the day when I come home to puppy kisses and hugs and love from my husband, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I never thought that I would have anything this fulfiling. That right there is how I will measure my success.

  15. Ok, I’m going to step up to the plate and say that I don’t think that I’m successful. But other people probably view me as successful.

    I graduated with degrees from two prestigious schools in a lucrative (supposedly stable) field. I have a job in that field and I am making a decent paycheck. I will marry the most wonderful man in two months, and we are comfortably living together, being able to afford things like vacations and dinners out.

    So, what’s the problem? Well, the problem is I hate my job. And not just my current job, but I have lost all interest in my field in general. I know what I want to do as my dream career, but it has nothing to do with what I trained for, I’m still trying to figure out how to get into it, and it would sure perplex my parents who are already “warning” me against “wasting” my two (expensive) degrees. And honestly, going to a job that I hate every weekday makes me a shitty person to be around because I am constantly angry/exhausted. I’m working on that part, but I know that ultimately what would make me happy (and a better person) is leaving this place and pursuing my dream career. Here’s hoping!

    1. Yes YES YES YES!!!!!

      I feel this. I get this. And knowing what it will take for you to kick it in the butt is so important.

      Thank you for saying this.

  16. I’m going to be honest (with myself), and say I don’t feel successful…yet. I don’t really feel ashamed to admit this, because it’s the truth and something I’ve thought about. I’ve yet to have a job that is fulfilling; my current part-time administrative job definitely does not make me feel successful, money-wise or emotionally. I’ve hopped from one low-paying job to another, and while I was successful in finishing my English degree, so far it’s just created a lot more debt, and I’m still working the same type of jobs I worked prior.

    I feel I’ve been increasingly more personally successful, if that makes sense. I’ve been writing more, I learned a fun new hobby that I’ve stuck with (knitting), I’ve been reading a lot more. I think I’ve been more successful relationship-wise, too; I’m marrying a wonderful person, and I’ve learned to let go of unhealthy friendships. So, I don’t feel like I’m failing in life, but, wouldn’t say I think I’m successful, either. I’ll feel successful, in career and personal fulfillment, when I find a job that I take pride in and don’t want to cry about, or when I feel I can call myself a writer, or when I can actually pay my bills.

    I don’t think others see me as successful, honestly, but that doesn’t bother me that much. My mom always talks about my “fancy” job (haha) because I work in a high-rise building downtown, which is hilarious because I don’t make much money. Good point that everyone views success differently, I suppose πŸ˜‰

  17. I’m loving this conversation. It is interesting to see everyones comments, its kind of as if they are talking to themselves, validating and butt-kicking (if needed) and its balanced and awesome!

    My response to this is: Yes, I do feel successful. I think it is hard to say it is entirely personal, bc we are all people of this world and it shapes us and our thoughts/feelings – but I think it is up to us to define what we want and who we are – and that in turn directs the idea of/if we feel sucessful. It is sad to see some people setting their “goals”, which they assume are “theirs”, and then 10 years later realize ARENT theirs, but other peoples. That liberating process can be awesome, but unfortunate that it takes too long.

    My feelings of success come from the ability I have, every day, to dream and plan and be very happy. I know I am lucky that I GET to choose my job, I GET to choose my friends and treat them well and have them treat me well also. It gives me great pride to love my family, whether they are perfect or not. To me, that is the ultimate success – to be all those things and choose all those things and have very little holding me back. I know that others dont always have that emotional and mental freedom. So regardless of career dreams (which I have many and pushing for) – I think success is totally within my wavelength always!

  18. I think I’m kindof in line with Liz here . . . I honestly don’t know if I think of myself as successful. Because, well, *shrug.* I always just try to be honest with myself as to whether or not I’m happy. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s no. But whatever my answer, I think that’s my benchmark of whether I’m doing well.

  19. Bottom line – I think I’m successful. There are times when I compare myself to others and think I should be making more money or have a fancier house or whatever, but when I take a step back and really think about it and what I’ve chosen to value in my life, I’m a huge success. My priorities and how I live my life are exactly what I want them to be and in my mind that’s success.

    When it comes to professional life, I’ve made the choice that I’m going to work in a field I find interesting and challenging and meaningful, but it’s just a job. I’m not going to define myself by my job because for me it’s a way to do the things I want in life outside of work like spending time outdoors and traveling. I have family members my age who have taken a totally different path and have really invested themselves in their careers. When I was younger, I felt like maybe I should be more ambitious in my profession, but now I know that I made the right choice for myself.

  20. I don’t feel successful, but I don’t feel like I’m supposed to just yet. I feel like I am potentially on my way to successful, and I’m happy with that. I have been in school up until very recently and had always felt very successful within that realm. But this new non-school realm is so much bigger and more ambiguous and I’m just starting out in it. So success is for another day.

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