In just over 12 weeks, I will be 35, homeless, unemployed and single and I can’t wait. This impending situation is not accidental, it is through rigorous planning, sheer determination and large amounts of courage, that I will finally be in the position that I want to be in rather than a position that I have forced myself to be in for so many years.
A few years ago, I was a well-respected manager for a charity, earning a good salary, living with a boyfriend in a beautiful fisherman’s cottage by the sea and I couldn’t have been more miserable. I was bored in my job, I was unhappy in my relationship and I was struggling to reconcile my dreams of adventure and travel with the prospect of settling down.
Being a misfit
It has taken me years to get from there to where I am today and I have no doubt that this delay has been because I’ve resisted and denied my feelings about what being successful truly means for me. I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling at odds with societal norms and associated measures of success, but spent just as long trying to comply with them.
I’ve never really wanted to buy a house, yet I’ve investigated the possibility several times, even going as far as getting a mortgage agreed in principle, all the while knowing it wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve never wanted to own lots of expensive things but a few years ago I looked around at my peers and realised I was the only one that didn’t have a car so I went out and bought one. I’ve never really had any strong desires to get married and have kids but I have in the past felt like a failure, purely as a result of the expectations that others have of me in this regard. I’ve never really had any ambitions to be a high-flying businessperson, but I have, nonetheless, had a good go at it because it felt like the right thing to do.
On graduating from University, I wasted no time in jumping on the career ladder and proceeded to spend the next twelve years working my way up it in search of riches and success. On paper I did pretty well. Within four years of graduating I had tripled my salary and moved from Administration Assistant up to Communications Manager. By 32 I had added nearly another £20K to my salary and was overseeing 50 projects worth nearly £4million. Pretty successful by most people’s standards, but interestingly as my career successes added up my satisfaction levels diminished.
Defining success for myself
When I found that on paper I looked like the picture of success but in reality I felt like a big fat failure, I had no option but to seriously look at how I was defining success. The first thing I did was to identify what success looked like for me. I asked myself what would my life look like if I were successful and it boiled down to three things.
- Doing work that I enjoy that also helps other people.
- Earning enough money to do all of the things I want to do in my life.
- As a result of 1 and 2, feeling happy and fulfilled.
None of these came as a surprise to me and I started to realize that my definitions of success haven’t really changed over the years. I have always seen helping people as a key measure of my success and as a result I’ve spent the last 11 years working in the not-for-profit sector. I’ve also spent most of my career working hard to continuously increase my salary and as a result I’ve paid off all of my debts and earned enough money to travel to some incredible places and do some incredible and exciting things.
So what’s the problem?
It has taken me a long time to realize and acknowledge that working for a charity does not necessarily mean that what I do on a daily basis actually helps people. In my current line of work I rarely get to interact with the people I’m supposedly helping and my work is so far removed from the ‘front line’ that I get no sense of satisfaction that should come from doing something that directly benefits another human being.
The money factor is interesting, yes I earn enough money to do great things and travel to great places and I have done so, but a significant amount of that money is tied up in maintaining the kind of lifestyle that supports me to do the job in the first place and whilst I can afford to spend a few weeks out of every year doing something wonderful, I actually spend the majority of my life doing a job that I don’t enjoy rather than living the life I want to be living.
Finally, if I don’t feel satisfied that the work I do actually does help people and the money I earn is mainly spent on maintaining a lifestyle I don’t particularly want, then there is no real chance of feeling happy and fulfilled in my life.
What this exercise showed me is that whilst my measures of success haven’t really changed over the years, I have, however, begun to realize that my methods to achieve those successes haven’t been working. That’s when it dawned on me that things had to change.
I’m sure some people might see quitting my job, my home and heading over to the other side of the world as a tad drastic, but I feel I’ve struggled to fit in with a set of ideas about success that simply don’t correlate with who I am for long enough. Having battled with my dreams and myself for too many years now, I’m no longer in a position to compromise on what success means for me. Drastic times call for drastic measures.
I know that there is meaningful and fulfilling work for me to do in this world and as long as my energy and time is being drained by a 9-5 job, I’ll never give myself a good enough chance to discover it. I’ve also realized that living the life of my dreams is actually a lot cheaper than one might think. Living in South East Asia, India and Africa next year will cost around one-fifth of what I currently earn. Giving up my job makes me time rich and living abroad makes my money go five times further. Feels like a no-brainer to me.
Look around you
Redefining how I achieve success in life has obviously been a process that I’ve been undergoing for months and even years now, but what brought this idea to the forefront of my mind recently was something that happened last week.
Leaving the UK and my life as I know it in a few months time, has enabled me to take a step back from my life and look at it in a more objective way than before. The result is that at times I feel more like an observer of my life rather than an active participant. If it sounds strange, it feels even more so.
This new position of observer has allowed me to step outside of my daily frustrations and look at my life and those around me with different eyes. Last week on my way to work I had, as per usual, battled my way through London Victoria tube station to get shoved and elbowed onto a train by a throbbing mass of late and impatient office workers. As my face was pressed up against the glass door of the tube carriage I couldn’t help but notice the looks on people’s faces in and outside the carriage.
People looked both tired and unhappy and what hit me in that moment was that we, the people crammed into this carriage like animals, are supposed to be the successful ones. These faces, not one of which were smiling, belong to the wealthiest few in this world, living and working in one of the richest cities there is. It was at that moment that I finally and fully embraced the fact that my definition of success is simply not compatible with the life I am currently living. There was some relief in this, as I’ve already handed my notice in and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok!
I think that what has become most clear to me in all of this, is the importance of questioning everything. When it comes to definitions of what is successful, I can’t help feeling that other people’s notions of success have been handed down from generation to generation and it can be all too easy to take these notions as true without really questioning them. for me what has been crucial is to stop, step outside of it all and decide for myself what success looks and feels like, for me.
I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate ~ George Burns
What does success look like for you? Do you feel like you are doing the right things to achieve success by your definition? Is it time to review your methods for success? Or are you completely on track or already there basking in its glory? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do share by hitting one of the buttons below. Thanks.