PeopleWithLaptops recently did a series asking, “How do you #DefineSuccess?” and it got me thinking. Everyone has a very different answer — I’ve seen everything from impacting others to freedom to I don’t know. That last one is what most people would say, I imagine. That was my initial reaction, as well, but the question really stuck with me. So, how would I define success?
I spent most of my twenties trying and failing to figure out the answer to this question. I spent about five years in school for a liberal arts degree, the thought being that I would feel successful by making a difference and helping people. Obviously there is some value to that goal, but I graduated in 2012 and jobs were fairly scarsce, especially in my area. To be honest, it didn’t help that my career goals were pretty ambiguous — work in non-profit. How do you find jobs in “non-profit work.” That’s not a job title. I was clueless and anxious and ended up waiting tables.
Next I moved on to travelling, looking for freedom and pure experience. I spent time as an exchange student in Germany. I picked up the language from scratch, went to school, started waiting tables there (that’s life, right?). I felt free and in charge of my own destiny, but I also felt lonely and out of place. Suddenly my small, boring hometown was a foreign bastion of love and comfort. I moved home as soon as my second semester was done.
Next I spiraled downward for a while, but that’s a story for another day. I tried a few different “careers” just looking for the monetary version of success. I worked at a small law office for a while — that was awful. Think you might feel depressed or anxious? Try walking someone else through the steps of a divorce or child custody case. My mental health at the time was much too fragile for that kind of intensity.
Next I did a year in school for cosmetology. At least I can color my own hair now — win. Then I thought I got my big break as a Pre-K teacher at a local Montessori school. Turns out, I don’t want kinds. Especially not 12 of them.
Finally, I went back to school for my Master’s in Applied Computer Science.
Some backstory: My mom is a database developer and I remember watching her work and telling her I couldn’t understand how she does that all day. How boring it must be to stare at thousands of lines of code all day! I was under the impression that I was completely right-brained. No logical thinking for me. No sirree!
At this point, though, I was lost and desperately broke, financially and emotionally. I just wanted to work my nine to five and get a steady paycheck. So, fine. If tech is where the jobs are at, I’ll do it for the money, even though I know I’ll hate it. Great attitude, right?!
Turns out, as you may have guessed from all my foreshadowing, I actually loved it almost immediately! I did a deep dive into the world of tech and development and felt inspired and motivated by how much I was learning and how quickly things were moving forward. Win-win — a career that is fun and engaging AND pays well? Is this success?
Well, yes, I think I’ve found a type of success I can achieve and enjoy on a regular basis. These days I define success as following through and doing something, anything. I think success is a day-to-day possibility. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point where I stop what I’m doing and say, this is it. I have finally succeeded. At the same time, I don’t think I had ever really experienced success before finishing school for CS. I never really followed through on any of my many endeavors I listed above. I always stopped short thinking, I’m not sure if this is for me. Will I be happy with this? Will I be any good at this? Can I handle this? And I never just tried.
Im at an early point in my career, but I already feel like I’ve achieved some version of success. I think my previous diversions are also the reason my friends and family are more proud of me than ever. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was known as someone that talked big game but never did anything about it. I had so many ideas. I wanted to open a co-working craft studio. I wanted to start my own jewelry design business. I wanted to build my own tiny house. I wanted to be a developer. Everyone just rolled their eyes, like, OK. We’ll see…
Well, I shocked a lot of people, including myself, and finally DID something. I found the courage and the will power to stick with something that was outside my comfort zone. I have learned and grown so much purely from taking that next step every day. I am successful every day that I get up and go to work and push out features and updates and bug-fixes for whatever it is that I’m working on. I’m successful every time I sit down and write for one more day. I’ll be successful when I retire, too.
Success is not a bucket list goal — it’s something you can achieve every day.
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Agree or disagree? I would love to hear how you define success for yourself!