Since I’ve gotten back to the States I’ve found myself thinking about my life: the past, the future and the choices that lay ahead. But the thought I couldn’t shake no matter how hard I tried was:
What makes a life a success?
What choices should I be making now to ensure that my life is a success? What do I need to have happen to even categorize it that way? Is it tons of money? Lots of friends? Crazy experiences? A fulfilling career? Traveling the world? Close family? True love? Finding my passion? To be happy? The only answer I’ve came up with is that I didn’t know. If I asked 10 people I’d get 10 different answers. But that’s how it should be. We all look and think differently how could we all be expected to want and value the same things?
I’ve been deciding where I want to move to in the near future. I’d been planning on moving to San Diego (living in Southern California has long been a dream of mine) but more recently was asked by two friends if I’d be interested in moving to Melbourne, Australia. The more I thought about it the less crazy it seemed. Since working ‘down under’ I have quite a few friends who lived there- I actually know more people in Melbourne than I do in San Diego. Throw in the fact that living in another country and immersing myself in their culture has long been a dream of mine; it just seemed meant to be.
Obviously, I’ve taken a lot of things into account before making a final decision. But whenever making a big decision one thing I’ve always done is bounce my ideas off other people. It’s not that I let others decide for me, but it’s ignorant to not hear as many different perspectives as possible before making a decision.
I was sitting at the bar a few weeks ago having a few whiskeys (shocking) and found myself talking to two guys who’ve I’ve always thought of as mentors. Let’s call them Vince and Rick. I’ve known both for over 5 years and they have always given me great advice while supporting most of the decisions I’ve made- even when they seemed out of left field. Rick is the dad to a close friend of mine. And Vince is someone who shares my passion for drinking on Saturday afternoons at our favorite dive bar. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of these guys.
A bit of background on Vince and Rick. They’ve known each other for years. Both men are successful. Both are vice presidents at their respective companies. Vince is single and Rick has a family. Both know how to have a great time. Rick has only ever lived in one city while Vince has moved around quite a bit. They both have my best interest at heart and respect me enough to tell me their honest opinions.
I told them both that I was heavily considering going back to Australia for a year to work and travel. Rick told me that it was a stupid decision, that I hadn’t achieved anything since college, that I needed to take a job to build my resume, and that the way I was going I basically wasn’t hirable. From his response it’s clear to see that a “successful” life to him involves career stability, financial well being, and building your life around a family.
But then Vince voiced his support of the decision. He said that I was young and that I should be out experiencing as much as I could. Vince said there is plenty of time to find a career and he had faith in me to make the decision that I felt was best for me because I was a “smart kid” who would find a way to “land on my feet.” To him a successful life was more about experiences and personal fulfillment and you should go wherever they may lead you.
They got into a semi heated conversation about choices like I wasn’t standing right next to them.
So who’s right? They both are.
I’m not trying to cop out of giving a real answer or not offend either of them. Their conversation helped me to realize that there’s no right way to live and they were both giving the advice they felt was best for me based on their own lives. There’s an old Haitian proverb that states “we see from where we stand” and that’s what was happening here. They both thought how they’d chosen to live their lives was right and were seeking validation from me.
Unfortunately, they never stopped to take into account what I wanted. Advice from other people tends to just be a combination of nostalgia and subjectivity. While giving the advice few realize that we all have a different path to walk. I mean, its one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s quite another to think that yours is the only path worth taking.
**Tangent on advice giving** (reading optional):
When you’re giving someone advice it’s imperative to take their goals, lifestyle, and beliefs into account. If you don’t know what they want out of life or what they value you have no business giving them advice. Each and every one of us value different things. What you value is no better or worse than what someone else values. We all march to the beat of different drummers. I know a lot of people who place the most value on a combination of bank balance and age appropriate mile-stones. You try to make lots of money and then you get married in your mid or early 20s and have a kid or two by 30 etc. Plenty of people find happiness in that lifestyle but there are plenty who don’t. Some realize much too late that this path wasn’t what they wanted but ended up there anyway for various reasons.
Bottom line: Don’t be so near sided by your own beliefs and lifestyle that it overshadows the other person’s problem. It’s their life which means they should be chasing whatever would give them personal fulfillment. As a true friend your job is to help them accomplish that in the most efficient way possible.
**End of tangent**
No one’s life is perfect. It can’t be. Everyone has choices they wish they’d have made differently. Most people find a way to live with some form of regret. Regret is just part of being human. For every choice you make you give up something else. That is the very nature of choice. All you can really hope for is to have as few regrets as possible.
Life’s not black and white and neither are people’s choices. In hindsight, each moment and decision can be labeled as “good/bad” or “right or wrong” making us believe the outcome was obvious from the start. But when you construct the motivating factors that led to the decision it’s much more understandable how people choose poorly sometimes.
Where people seem to trip up the most is when they allow fear to dictate their decision making. We all have the fear of the unknown and failure. But the important thing is to get past your fear. Your fears aren’t there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it. And if someone claims to not have any fears they are a liar and you should feel free to kick them in the shins (kidding…kind of).
I once read that the most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending you life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later. That’s always stuck with me. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be alive a year from now. That in itself should motivate people or at the very least terrify them into action, but it rarely does. Many of us put off our dreams and wait for the perfect situation. “I don’t have enough money” or “the timing just isn’t right yet” are two of the most common.
We’re scared of what other people will say or think if we live outside the lines. Going against what society deems “normal” and being labeled “different” makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Shirking the traditional path makes a lot of people nervous. It’s no secret that not fitting in makes life harder, but can it also make it more rewarding?
However, what should make you nervous is living a life you don’t believe in. I may not know the true definition of a “successful” life but I do know that a life is a failure if the person living it doesn’t believe in it. Apart from believing in your own life the other secret to a “successful” life is to acknowledge your fear and embrace it. Harness it. Use that fear to accomplish your dreams instead of hiding from it and letting fear control your life.
We all need people in our lives to give us a gentle nudge in the right direction. To tell us that it’s okay to go after what we want and that it’s more than okay to dream out loud. Isn’t dreaming just a different type of planning? Other times we need those same people to slap us in the face and tell us to live up to our potential.
So, what do I think makes a successful life?
To me, a successful life would include: conquering your fears both great and small, chasing after your dreams however insane they seem, surrounding yourself with people who challenge you – who not only see your potential but also help you achieve it, finding the one person who makes you crazy in all the right ways, reading as many books as you can, not only educating others but also inspiring them.
If you can find a way to do any of these you’ve done something right.
I’ve only started to answer this question for my own life. But I’ve made my decision, I’ll be going back to Australia for a year to work, travel, and continue to search for what I’m truly passionate about. I know that ths decision wouldn’t be right for everyone so I don’t expect everyone to understand it. I never want to play the “what if” game with my life. And I hope you don’t either. I know that I would regret staying more than going. Giving in to fear and worry would plague me the rest of my life.
Part of growing up is realizing you don’t need other people’s approval or acceptance with each choice you make. First and foremost, you have to live your life so you can live with yourself. In the end, all I can do is hope that my friends will visit me and my family will support and forgive me.
After all, it’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.