Happy Birthday, America! I figured success is an appropriately American subject for the Fourth of July.
For many young (and young-ish) professionals, our idea of success is predefined. We grew up having our heads filled with traditional ideas about what it means to succeed. Unfortunately, although the world has changed, for many of us our definition of success never did.
As a lawyer, I’ve suffered from a particularly bad case of this. For lawyers, success generally means making partner. The steps for achieving that are mechanical – go to a good school; get the best grades you can; land a summer associate position through on-campus interviews; and then pay your dues as an associate in the hopes of eventually reaping the rewards of nearly two decades of hard work by making partner.
Other professions have similarly mechanical paths toward achievement. Yet for me and many others, once you get a closer look, the reward at the end of all the hard work doesn’t seem all that rewarding. Sure the money can be nice, but it doesn’t make up for the stress; the long hours staring at office walls; the lack of agency as you respond to your clients’ whims; and the dearth of creativity of you follow a path your industry has chosen for you.
I knew early on there had to be a better way. The problem was that I just didn’t have an alternate definition of success. I’m ambitious, but as I looked at the available options outside of the law firm life (government service; the non-profit world), each version of success looked far too similar to what I wanted to leave behind.
This put me into a weird stasis. I had a life I should want, yet it didn’t fit.
In mid-2013, I received a break in my search for a valid conception of success. Specifically, a complete fracture of my clavicle. Blessed with down time I hadn’t had in years and determined to be productive through the fog of Oxycontin and Percoset, I caught up on some reading.
At the top of the list was Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week. On the bookshelf for years, I’d previously dismissed it as a get-rich-quick scheme. As I dug in though, the book described an idea of success that I was seeking but had been unable to define.
Whatever you think of the tactics outlined in the book, the book captures perfectly certain essential principles of the modern world. With new technologies, it really is possible for nearly anyone to work from anywhere in the world. To control where, when and how one makes a living. In that light, the prospect of spending the next 40 years trapped in an office hoping for a nice life when you’re 70 seems unbearable.
Although technology changes quickly, the arc of a career is long. Like many others, I had defined success and set my career trajectory before the technologies that enable this new type of freedom had matured. But now that I finally had some meat on the bones that I had been mentally picking, it was time for me to redefine my idea of success to match the realities of this new era. And then, to take action toward creating a new and more rewarding life.