As a recovering workaholic, I’ve always been “driven,” but I learned to slow down thanks to an accident.
The summer after my first year of college, I bought a 11-year old Mercedes Benz from a used car auction with money I saved from working at the batting cages and tutoring.
Two weeks after buying the car and spending everything I had to fix it, I finally got to take it out to a party. I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine, and the moment I did that, two men jumped out the car in front of me with guns drawn and all of a sudden I was staring down the barrel of a gun. No words were exchange. The keys were exchanged and the car was gone.
I was headed nowhere fast. I was trying to achieve the American Dream as fast as I could by checking off all of the boxes faster than everyone else.
Graduate high school. Graduate undergrad. Graduate grad school. Get a cool car. Get a job. Fall in love. Get married. Have a kid. Buy a house. Climb the corporate ladder. Have another kid. Get a minivan. Buy a bigger house. Climb harder. Make a million dollars. And retire early.
As crazy as this may sound, I’m so grateful for that moment because I wouldn’t be who am or living the life I’m able to live today without it. For the rest of that summer, I went into a deep space of introspection and I had to ask myself 3 important questions.
1. Why the heck did I buy a Mercedes Benz?
I could have bought a Honda Civic and it would probably would have been all good. I think I learned my lesson because it has been 13 years since and now I drive a used Honda Accord.
2. Whose definition of success was I living?
In hindsight, I realized that even as an adult, I was living my parents’ definition of success. My parents were both doctors and owned Mercedes, so I wanted to show them that I was on a path to success just like them. Each generation should do better than their parents right? If they had a nice house by the age of 35, then I wanted one by 30. If they had a nice car by the age of 25, then I had to have one by 20.
3. What’s my unique definition of success?
This is perhaps life’s hardest and most important question to answer. Yet when I speak at companies, conferences, and colleges nationwide, I find that like me, everyone wants to be successful, but 90% of people have never defined it in writing for themselves.
That’s the number 1 reason successful people don’t feel successful. For most of us, success is this intangible idea in our head. But it doesn’t have to be.
Wanting to be successful without ever defining it is equivalent to:
- Being in your home drive way
- Plugging your home address into Point A on the GPS
- Plugging nothing into Point B
- Backing out of your driveway, and then
- Driving as fast as you can in any direction
- Hoping that one day you will crash into success
No matter how driven we are, does that make any sense whatsoever? No!
Until I defined success for myself, I simply adopted a combination of my parent’s dashboard for success and society’s default dashboard for success which includes money, power, wealth, fame, and beauty.
One of the worst feelings in the world is looking successful in other people’s eyes, but not feeling successful inside yourself.
We see this with celebrities all of the time. We project our definition of success of their lives and thus call them “successful.” But they aren’t happy with who they are, is that really success? The same thing happens to us when we succeed according to other people’s definition instead of our own either because we never defined it for ourselves or we didn’t have the courage the live in alignment with our own definition.
When my car got stolen, I realized that success is about how much I enjoy the journey from milestone to milestone, NOT how fast I got from milestone to milestone.
So many people achieve the milestones but hate the journey—what they had to do in between them—though the journey actually makes up most of our lives and the milestones are just moments. I was in a rush to be a millionaire by 30. And now I’m 30 and I’m not a millionaire, but because my definition of success has changed, I feel extremely rich in ways that money only can’t measure.
Some people choose the corporate ladder, highest paying job, big city, no family, chic apartment, nice restaurants, and occasional international travel.
Some people choose 9-to-5, blue collar, decent paying job, small city, big family, 2 bedroom home, and coach my kids’ soccer team on weekends.
Some people choose entrepreneurship, moderate to unlimited earning potential, college town, small family, apartment, Disneyland, and camping trips.
Only seeking society’s definition of success will leave you empty. But seeking to live in alignment your definition of success will leave you fulfilled. But most people don’t make intentional choices about their lifestyle design. And every choice we forgo, gets made for us by someone else.
There is no universal definition of success.
The only definition of success that matters is yours. So make sure you know what it is, otherwise, you’ll never feel successful no matter how hard you try.
I wish you more happy hours.
Thanks for reading,