How Do You Measure Success?

When you were younger, did you have a life plan? You were going to have a job right out of college, or maybe you were going to travel for a few years first. You were going straight from undergrad to grad school and you were going to be a professor, writing books and radically changing your field. You were going to medical school, law school, or you were going to find a job right away.

Maybe your plan worked out. Maybe you’re exactly where you planned to be; or maybe your plans fell through. Maybe you traveled to a new place, a new country, and liked it so much that you stayed. Maybe you found out that academia isn’t the profession for you. Maybe you realized you didn’t need to be a doctor or a lawyer to make the kind of impacts that you wanted to. Maybe you had trouble finding a job after undergrad and decided to go to grad school instead.

If your plans haven’t worked out the way you thought they would, this one’s for you.

Did you think you would be farther along by now? Do you feel like you’re lagging behind everyone you graduated with? 5 or 10 years after graduation, do you feel like you should have done more, like you lost your way? Or did you find a better way?

For a long time, I thought I had failed. I planned to get a PhD and become a professor, but I’d quit grad school 4 years into my PhD program. The following years were a tangled mess of temporary jobs and contract positions that did little to help me advance personally or professionally. I felt as though I was stuck in a hole of my own bad decision-making.

Perhaps that’s accurate, but isn’t it better to fail until you get what you want than to settle for less and be miserable? I’ve been told that settling is normal, and it’s “what you have to do” in order to have a comfortable life, but that rubs me the wrong way. Why would I spend most of my life doing things I’m not interested in? Even if it means I don’t have a stable career path, isn’t it better to plug away at something I love to do?

I guess it all depends on how you conceptualize success, but to me, success is finding a way to do what I love every day. If I can make money doing the things I love, all the better. It’s worth more to me if I’m satisfied with what I’ve done every day than if I can calculate how many days left until retirement.

My life starts today, not when I retire, and the purpose of it should be to do what I’m passionate about until I can’t do it anymore. I won’t wait until I’m in a comfortable place to do what I love. Why wait?


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