Defining Success

I always thought success meant one of two things: either (1) a person goes to work for a company, makes a lot of money, and buys nice things, or (2) a person takes a big risk, works for themselves, makes a lot of money, and buys nice things. Simple right? Want to be successful, just do one of those two things. This made sense to 16 year old me, 18 year old me, 21 year old me, and 24 year old me, but 26 year old me started thinking “wait a minute now.”

Mike Tyson is famous for (among other things) saying “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Well, I started finding issues with my plan of achieving success around my mid 20’s, once I crossed five full years out of college and working full-time. I started looking around at my bosses and management, and began thinking “do I really see myself in their shoes?” The answer turned out to be “no” more than it was “yes.” A house by the beach can only be so much fun if you are only spending two weeks out of the summer there because of how busy work is. Having a few kids and being a family man don’t really go together if you’re on the road half the year and working many late nights and weekends. With the traditional definition of success comes great sacrifice much of the time.

I don’t know why it took me 26 plus years to realize I could define success on my own terms, but I guess that’s better than realizing it at 60. Now creating your own definition of success is a lot harder in the real world than it is in practice. Social and societal norms are still ingrained in us. Being in school from from age 5 to 22 and then in the workforce thereafter will do that to most people.

I have tried to start defining success on my own terms. Success to me incorporates more than money and a career, the definition I had known for most of my life. My definition is definitely a moving target as things change throughout life, but right now success means time for relationships (spouse, family, friends), time for hobbies, time for experimenting, and at least some income to enjoy said hobbies and travel. Maybe you are reading this and thinking “that doesn’t sound like too crazy of a definition.” I don’t think so either. It’s all about balance. But balance is tough in a world where our jobs convince us to put them first above everything else.

Maybe this realization is part of growing up. Maybe with maturity comes the ability to call bullshit. Life is too short to live it based on someone else’s definition. Take a step back and try crafting your own definition of success.

What is your definition of success? How does that compare to the definition you have known for most of your life?

8 thoughts on “Defining Success

  • So did you bury the lead, and your girlfriend skipped the fiancée stage and went straight to spouse during your hiatus? Glad to have you back FF!

  • You are not late to the party, you are way early, man. Kudos for realizing that no one else gets to define who you are. Happiness should be the goal, whatever that means to you (and it may not be that for everyone). Embrace it, follow it, and you will be free from that moment on no matter where you are in the FI cycle.

  • In college, we had a Career Day type of event where graduates of the accounting school got on stage and talked about what they do in their jobs, and took questions from the audience. I think one question was about time off or work/life balance or something, and the guy who answered it was so honest, it was shocking. He basically admitted that he had been having trouble in his marriage, and said something like “You can be the top earner and make tons of money, or you can be able to name your kid’s top three interests.”

    It was such a shock because it was literally the only time in my four years at school that anyone nodded to the fact that you will be living a larger life, and this work part that you are being trained for is just part of it. It was all anyone could talk about the next day in class. It’s definitely something they don’t prepare you to think about in school.

    • Woah, love the honesty! One of our professors in the accounting school had to quit public accounting at age 50 or he said his wife would of divorced him. So then he became a professor!

  • We hit that realization after we had our first kid. It was fine while in LA due to short commute times, once we got to Houston, it all changed. Days were long for everyone (12 hrs end to end), our marriage started to suffer, and we realized it wasn’t sustainable. We’d been saving for ER a year or so prior to this, but it made us even more committed to figuring out our Lifestyle Change plans.

    With mrs. SSC losing 6 figures a year to teach, it wasn’t about the money, rather her getting to do something she’d wanted to since graduating (teach) and it’s more fulfilling, and our schedule is WAY better nowadays. We joke that we could keep this lifestyle up WAY longer than our planned workforce exit date of 2019 because it is such a smooth lifestyle compared to what we were dealing with.

    I don’t think you’re late to the party at all, ours happened around mid 30’s. Regardless, better late than never?

    • Glad you really enjoy your current lifestyle! I think people (myself included) always get caught up in thinking “the grass is greener” or “what’s next will bring me happiness” so this is a great realization for you and your family.

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