Updated: Dec 17, 2018
“There are many celebrated stories of people who just quit their jobs and followed their passion, only to find a lot of success in doing so. I love these stories and get inspired by these stories, but they leave me with the sense that the path to success, however we define it, is black and white. Either we make dramatic decisions and race towards success like we’re trying to catch Usain Bolt, or we stay where we are and resign ourselves to a life of mediocrity and unfulfilled dreams. This doesn’t sit well with me. It hides the fact that success is a slow process for many people, and glosses over the reality that many successful people have actually worked towards their goals for years before they made it big.”
Drifty articulated so well what I had been hearing on countless podcast episodes and interviews of business men and women describing their journey of leaving their corporate job to start a business or pursue a creative passion.
Most don’t do what I did. It’s actually not recommended that you leave your job without already having your ducks in a row. But I knew we were planning to relocate and the amount of money I was making then wasn’t worth the 40 hours I spent at my job or the misery I was bringing home. So I quit and set out on a path to find success doing something else.
Drifty asked “What does success look like for you? I responded in her comments section and we began a conversation that led to a collaboration. She asked me to expand on how I defined success in the past and how I arrived at my current definition of success. Head on over and check out the interview!
Prior to quitting my job, I felt somewhat successful because 1 year into my career I earned the title ‘Program Director’ and was leading and managing a department at a non-profit, and supervising employees. I thought I was successful because I was a 26 year old black woman that had purchased two investment properties. We were able to help family members in need. We didn’t need any assistance paying for our wedding. We were saving and investing. And I never payed attention to when payday came.
I was miserable though. I was angry and unfulfilled. My life had little meaning. I didn’t feel like I was making an impact. I had everything I needed and barely anything I wanted. I felt like I was in a metaphorical prison. Just existing, with invisible chains around my wrists.
And then I was unemployed (by choice) back at square one, trying to do something, trying to figure my life out, trying to find a way to contribute financially that didn’t involve working for the man.
Thus began my journey of having to redefine everything about my life, including how I viewed success.
I could no longer be proud of a job title. I had no paycheck to look at with pleasure. I was stressed when family members asked us for help. There was no bun in the oven or another degree in progress to justify my unemployment to the rest of the world. I was walking toward something, but I didn’t know what. And people were looking at me expecting, waiting for something big.
As I shared with Drifty, success used to look like a big house in the suburbs, a six figure salary, and climbing to the top of a career ladder. Success was externally based on performance, the material, and the tangible - what I could show to others.
But when I no longer had certain things, my world turned upside down. I questioned my identity because it was based on something that was no longer there. I felt self-conscious about where I was in life. I tried to plan and plan and plan some more so I could put the pieces back together in an orderly fashion. And then I surrendered, and sat on my couch with my laptop, in my office with a whiteboard and marker, and my bed with pen and paper, and let myself have my life crisis that I thought wasn’t supposed to come until my late 40s or 50s.
I asked myself what I truly wanted out of life, who I felt a strong desire to serve, and how I was supposed to do it. I asked God to lead me to the answers and to put in my heart what He wanted me to do.
I redefined a successful life as being a combination of the following 4 components - Joy, Intentional Impact, Freedom, and Continuous Self-Improvement.
I choose Joy, because unlike happiness, it is constant, not fleeting, and is never contingent upon circumstances, my performance, getting something I want, or the successful completion of a goal.
I choose Intentional Impact, because I no longer want to casually walk about the world not paying attention to how my actions and words influence and affect others. We’re all hyper aware of how other people impact us, but don’t think twice about how we impact others, our community, or the world at large. We all leave a mark, but what kind and how so?
I strive for Freedom because those behind bars aren’t the only prisoners in this world. Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote, “”Free is everything I don’t feel I am right now, but want to be.” I never realized how many chains were weighing me down until I moved to Ohio and started this journey. Not only do I wish to break free of my own chains, I wish to help set others free too.
And finally, I choose Continuous Self-Improvement because I firmly believe that there is always something I can do to become a better version of my current self. I cringe at the phrase, “I am who I am.” I’ve used it in the past, but not anymore, because it’s an excuse to not work on my shortcomings and a statement that dismisses other’s honest and constructive criticism. I am not perfect and will never be perfect, so I should never be able to say I am my best self, and can never be any better than I am today.
Joy, Intentional Impact, Freedom, and Continuous Self-Improvement. All 4 are loosely defined with no specific goals or plans attached to them. All 4 were purposely chosen because striving for this version of success requires that I stay focused on the journey, not some thing that I can’t wait to achieve. There is no end goal on this path to success, no final destination, no The End.
My father once said to me ”The day you think you’ve reached the finish line is the day you finish growing. I pray you don’t reach the finish line in your lifetime.”
Success is a process. Success is a journey.
Success is a slow race that can never be finished.
How do you define success? Has it changed over time? How so?
Special Thank You and Shout Out to Drifty for her patience and collaborating with me! Don’t forget to head over and check out the post that inspired the collaboration, my responses to her questions and of course, her journey and thoughtful writing!
Drifty is an ambitious twentysomething who is trying to build a life she loves. She writes about her journey in personal development, faith, dating, and other areas on her blog, Driftyness.