All my life, I was obsessed with being “the best” and doing everything “right” even though my parents never placed any kind of crazy pressure on me to do so. Somehow, I developed that obsession all on my own. I excelled in both athletics and the arts and joined every club I could. Always had straight A’s and graduated from high school in the top 10 of my class. When it came time for college, scholarships came rolling in. I made sure to maintain a spot on the Dean’s list, and while working in addition to going to school and doing unpaid internships on the side, I managed to graduate with two majors in 3 ½ years.
In the midst of the economic crash of 2010, I found myself searching for my first job. Out of necessity I ended up doing direct sales. Even though I hated this job and it couldn’t be further from what I wanted to be doing, I rose to the top, selling cable packages door-to-door. I’d come home at night after 12-hour work days and fire away job applications. I was desperate for a job “in my field.” I felt a pang of failure, “what had I worked so hard for in college if I couldn’t even find a job?”
Finally, the call back came after an interview with my first agency. I started the next week. And there it was; my ‘career’ had begun. For four years, I rose through the ranks of the marketing/PR agency world and lived and breathed to make my clients happy. I had a salary and employer health insurance and a retirement plan. Those were the things everyone around me including myself equated with success.
But with long hours at the office, and the inevitable game of corporate catch up in which you’re always seeking ‘the next level,’ comes burnout. You think you have it made it, but then there’s the Jones’ and this annoying voice in your head kicks in, saying you need more, too. You need to do more, work harder, give up more, earn more, have more, and be able to do more. It’s a revolving door of “more’s” in which the exit always seems just out of reach.
Right around this time last year, I had an epiphany with my husband.
From the outside looking in, we had it all.
But the truth is, we had become slaves to the status quo. Stuck within the parameters of what we could afford while maintaining our expensive city life and our allotted time off from our jobs. One day, we had a raw conversation about what we really wanted.
We wanted to be happy and less stressed. We wanted the time to take care of our health and to travel. We came to the realization that our time and happiness were far more important than any salary or title ever would be. We thought; when we’re retired will we want to go ziplining through a jungle or repelling from a waterfall or hiking in 90 degree weather to the top of a volcano? Why wait until retirement, when NOW is truly the best time to explore the world; when we’re young, fit, and able.
Within weeks we had made the decision to sell nearly everything we owned, pick up and move to Costa Rica. I gave up my salary, health insurance, and employer sponsored retirement plan. Gave up everything I had “done right” seemingly overnight.
These days we live by the beach. We have hardly any physical belongings. Sometimes freelance work is plentiful and sometimes we’re scraping to figure out what we’ll do next. But we live simply and it works. Since we moved to Costa Rica in April of this year, we’ve traveled to Chicago, Detroit, Myrtle Beach, Miami, ten different cities here in Costa Rica and we spent 31 days traveling to 17 different cities in Brazil.
In that first job interview nearly five years ago, this was not even close to my answer to “where do you see yourself in five years?”
The truth I’ve discovered in this unorthodox “reversal of success” is that cookie cutters should be left for cookies. Success cannot be defined by societal pressures, or what others have or haven’t done.
Maybe the ‘status quo’ does make some people happy. But for others it won’t. And why waste your limited time working toward something that won’t make you happy? Perhaps bartending by the beach enjoying the ocean breeze and having your time truly to yourself when you’re off the clock will make you happier than that corporate gig your father always hoped you’d land.
I challenge everyone to take a step and analyze what it is that truly fulfills you. What would make you genuinely happy? It’s not about doing what’s right. It’s about doing what’s right for YOU. It’s about creating a life as unique and precious as your own personal happiness and what that looks look for each individual can be as unique as their fingerprints.
There was a time in my life I felt enormous pride for becoming the driver of my very first brand-new-car. I thought the vehicle I parked in the parking lot at work was somehow indicative of how successful I was. But I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, with no car at all.
Perhaps instead of resolving to do things that will bring us closer to what we believe success looks like in the new year, the best resolution of all is to give up the need to meet the status quo.