The Smell of Success

Would you know what success looked like if you saw it?

People want to be successful. I’m a big proponent of ambition, so I don’t find anything wrong with that in itself. But that’s nowhere near enough of a plan to be actionable.

Before it sinks so deeply into your psyche that you can’t ever be rid of it, I want you to clear your mind of the idea of success that society has given to you. Maybe you want an $80,000/year salaried job to pay for your nice house in suburbia, where you and your spouse can raise your 2.3 kids and your dog in relative security. That’s a nice life, and I don’t begrudge anyone who wants it. But you shouldn’t want it by default.

You also shouldn’t think that there’s only one road to get there. Not only is there more than one road, there are millions.

Let me ask you a hard question: What does a successful person look like? Would you know them if you saw them? When people are posing for the cameras – when they’re posting their cultivated life on Instagram or showing off their latest toys in the neighborhood – you see what that person wants the world to believe success looks like.

Instead, just go to the DMV and watch people come and go. Some of them took nice vacations on their yachts last year. Others struggled to pay for necessities. You’d have a hard time telling which is which just by the very candid glimpse you get of them in this setting.

So that’s Step One. Get rid of the idea that “success” is a snapshot, a singular moment in time. It’s not a picture on social media or a signed deed to a house. There’s no finish line at all – except for The Big One at the end.

Knowing that, move onto Step Two. Redefine “success” as a particular journey. In other words, I’m not successful because at this moment in time I make X dollars or have such and such things or experiences. I’m successful because on a regular basis I do what I love without having to do very much that I hate. And I improve that ratio all the time. Early on, I had to do a lot of things I didn’t like in order to do a small amount of things I did like, but I was also investing in my future. Now, the mix is better. Over my life I intend to keep improving it until eventually I barely do anything I don’t like at all, and tons of stuff I love. But there’s no 100% – you can only approach infinity, you can’t reach it.

So now you’ve gotten rid of the idea of success as an imprint, and grasped the idea of success as a continuous journey. The last part, Step Three, is to decide what journey you’ll take. They’re all different. Find the one that matches what makes you happy and pursue it with all your might. Don’t judge others for theirs – they’re different than you. Help them if you can, love them for their journey.

Take the long way home.

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