The meaning of Success
I am a New Yorker: Career ambition and achievement are a part of my DNA. But I’ve learned the hard way that successful careers often come with a price.
For two years, I worked for a large corporate organization aiming to solve gun violence in America. Our mission was important, the work was intense, and I felt important being a part of it. When I was young, success and achievement meant making a lot of money, having a big title, garnering respect, and being important to the company. To be successful, I sacrificed sleep, a healthy body, time with friends, and general emotional well-being. I worked myself into a complete stress-induced frenzy because I wanted to climb the ladder and I was relying on my job to fill a void.
Throughout most of my 20s, a huge part of my identity was entangled in my career. For young women (and young people in general), our 20s are spent figuring out who we are. As we try to pay our rent, make and maintain friends, and fumble through dating, it’s common that our jobs become a big part of our lives. But with long hours at the office, nights spent checking email, inter-office friendships or relationships, and mental space taken up by thinking about that next big meeting, are we leaving enough time for ourselves? What are we giving up to be successful young professionals? Should we be redefining “success?” on our own terms?
This year, at 28 years-old, I had a breakthrough (or breakdown?) about what success means to me and I made the decision to quit my job. I felt so tired and empty inside. I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly, but I knew I couldn’t continue to work on myself AND work at a soul-sucking job in the name of being successful, anymore.
Eventually I found another job that allows me to do good work with good people -- but doesn’t have the same prestige or “success” as my former job with the gun violence organization. At first, I was hesitant to join the new gig because of this element. Without the grind, the obsession, the high stakes -- would I be fulfilled?
The answer, I discovered, is yes. Now that I’m on the other side, I have much more space to think, to reflect, to eat well, to exercise, to spend time with people I love. My job is important because it’s important to me.
My advice: Try to be as well-rounded as possible. Success is nothing to be ashamed of -- work hard, be pleasant, use your smarts, and all that jazz -- but try to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Life is too big and important to be a coffee-hyped zombie addicted to your email inbox. Again, mental health is so important -- and no job or amount of money is worth loss of sleep, relationships, or sanity; not even one that pays six-figures.
I’ve been given many opportunities; I’ve worked really hard; I’ve strategically used my intelligence to climb the ladder; I’ve been kind and pleasant to everyone (or most everyone) along the way… And I’ve finally been able to redefine what success looks like to me. Success looks like having the time, space, support and emotional resources to take care of myself and allow myself become who the best version of me.