Maybe success is a chameleon, after all
A few days ago, I got a phone call from a friend in Singapore. She had woken up earlier that morning suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling that she wasn’t moving fast enough professionally. Both of her two entrepreneurial businesses were steadily developing and hitting the ground but neither of them was bringing in six figures yet. My friend was having a mini-anxiety attack because she felt she was running out of time. She expected to be much farther ahead than she was.
‘I’m turning 29 in a few months,” she reminded me, her voice shaky. I sat up in my bed and reached for my glasses (it may have been past lunchtime for her but I hadn’t even had my coffee). “Yes, 29. Which means you’re 28 and unless something tragic happens, you’ve got a lot of time left.” Our conversation continued and we talked about how important it was to have reality checks in a world that can easily make you feel a failure if you’re not a Mark Zuckerberg straight out of college.
In this day and age, the pressure young people feel to achieve certain cultural standards of success before they turn 30 seems magnified. Business magazines and websites have their 30 under 30 list. Then there is social media. If you stay on it long enough it can make you feel like your own life is neither good enough nor successful enough. The world of Instagram has its growing roster of social influencers in their 20’s whose pages suggest that their days are spent skipping around the world making tons of money just for being young, attractive and able to use a good photo editing app. Unfortunately, these things can make many young, hardworking, people who are just starting out, believe that they are slacking and doing something wrong.
Later that day, hours after I’d gotten off the phone, out of curiosity I typed into Google, ‘how to succeed before you’re 30.’ The search generated articles each titled with a specific number of actions to take to ensure early success. “5 Things You Need to Do.” “10 Habits to Develop.” “7 Steps to Making….” Then I typed in, ‘What if I don’t succeed before I’m 30?” The generated list was a mix between articles on famous people who succeeded after 30 and ways to become rich or famous by age 30. Nothing really came up about how to determine success in the first place. It got me thinking about how there might be different types of success at different stages of our lives. Also depending on where we live and our cultural or socio-economic contexts there might be certain achievements in areas of our lives worth celebrating and recognizing as a type of success given our unique circumstances.
For the most part, we are raised to equate success with money or assets, which are great to have of course. The unfortunate thing is that, we rarely think of success beyond that scope (Which is why it’s rare to ever hear an accomplished mother, who’s nurtured and raised competent, bright, respectable children, to be described as a successful woman.). But for someone in their twenties still in the process of discovering who they are, what they value and the sort of adult they desire to be, definitions of success can and probably should morph a bit. Success may look like finding the courage to explore a new vocational path even if it wasn’t what you studied in University. Success may look like finally deciding to put most of your energy into professional growth and development instead of into trying to find a spouse because everyone thinks you should be getting married. Success may look like staying committed to a job for a few years even if it isn’t perfect because you know there are still things you can learn before jumping ship. Success may look like coming to terms with the fact that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur and to be their own boss, and realizing that is okay.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish a lot by a certain age, be it 30 or 40 or 50. We are motivated by goals and by achievements. But it can help the amount of undue stress and worry we place on ourselves to remember a few things:
No short cuts – It has never changed that building and creating something worthwhile and long lasting requires time. There are no real short cuts in life no matter how many listicles you read.
Success is simple – Success can be as simple as being further along today than you were yesterday or last year. Everyone’s life journey is different – Everyone has their own set of challenges (and advantages) that we are not always privy to as we compare our lives to theirs.
What we see on social media is never the whole picture – Just a square orchestrated snapshot or a 140-character tweet. Keep redefining success – Different seasons of our lives and different stages of development may require us to define success in new ways that what we are not used to hearing or assuming.
Challenges will always arise – Whatever you become successful at, there will always be bumps and hiccups along the way, things to learn and practice, and most certainly some failures to move beyond.