It’s been a whole year since I quit my 9-5 job to dive heart first into the world of freelancing and blogging. In those 12 short months since I took the leap, I’ve been doing a whole lot of reflecting about creativity, passion and what it really means to be in control of your life (read some of my thoughts on the transition here). But you know the biggest realisation I’ve had over this time? The realisation that almost everything I grew up believing about what being successful means is actually ONE. BIG. LIE.
Growing up, I obediently followed the Yellow Brick Road to success paved by society. Go to school. Get good grades. Get a qualification. Get a good, stable job. Buy material things. Save enough money to retire. The lure is shiny and seductive — follow these steps and you’ll almost certainly arrive at the Emerald City.
So I did just that. I graduated from high school in the top 6% of students in the state and enrolled in university to get a teaching degree. I landed a full-time English teaching position right after, initially in Australia and then, later, in Berlin. By all accounts I was on the right path in the world: I had a respected, stable job, a regular paycheck, and I was slowly but surely moving up the career ladder and salary brackets. This is exactly what it looks like to be successful, right?
But it was all an illusion. For me, society’s version of success came with a hefty price tag on happiness and fulfilment. As the years wore on, it became more about surviving rather than thriving. I felt achingly unhappy, unfulfilled and started to question EVERYTHING I’d been taught to believe about success. The anxiety attacks, sleepless nights and the toll on my health and relationships sure didn’t make me feel like I was winning at life. Actually, I felt like I was failing pretty miserably.
Eventually, it all came to a head and I quit, in recognition of the fact that in mindlessly conforming to society’s expectations, I’d lost my own sense of wonder and joy along the way. It wasn’t an easy decision, that’s for sure. It’s a pretty confronting thing to walk away from a career you’d devoted the past 12 years to. But turning off that linear, well-paved Yellow Brick Road and choosing to run through the wildflowers instead is a hell of a lot more exciting.
It’s not down on any map. True places never are. — Herman Melville, Moby Dick
What I realised through all of this is that it’s so important to really question the path you’re going down and ask yourself seriously what your version of success looks like. It’s a hard question and a confronting one. So much unhappiness is born through flawed ideas about what it means to be successful and through chasing goals that aren’t our own, but have been forced upon us by society. So instead of measuring success through money, prestige, possessions or power, the much more important metric should actually be happiness and well-being. Who’s with me?