I used to think that after I’d worked really hard consistently, I’d ‘make it’. And after I’d ‘made it’, life would be always swell.
What did ‘making it’ mean in my head?
- Having a lot of money.
- Being respected in my field.
- Feeling fulfilled in what I did.
- Living life on my timeline; my terms.
But more than the above, it meant life’s problems would be far easier to deal with. It meant milder bad days.
It meant feeling successful.
The trouble with that is the feeling of success is much like the feeling of love: it’s subjective, and often arbitrary. You rely on its existence to find happiness in, not realizing that its very definition is ever-changing, and after we adapt to these new variations of success and love, we quickly dismiss what we’ve cultivated – sometimes even becoming blind to them – in seeking the next step up.
The feeling of success is much like the feeling of love: it’s subjective, and often arbitrary.
This is not unlike couples who have passed their honeymoon phase in otherwise healthy long term relationships start to crack, because their love has evolved but their definition of it has not. Or the happiness of lottery winners quickly deflating back to neutral just a few months after the awesome news. It’s almost ludicrous to read about.
We think: “How could they let that happen to them?”, but we’re wired like this for sound biological reason.
It’s our highly adaptive natures that have allowed us to reign over the animal kingdom, to develop ourselves into a highly intelligent and nuanced civilization.
In colder epochs, we were able to invent clothing, and learnt how to preserve food when it was scarce. We owe our humanness to our wonderfully flexible adaptation, but it’s starting to show its downsides in modern contemporary society.
To my family and friends, I have ‘made it’ (at least on a small scale). I’ve been able to quit my 9-5, started my own creative business that allowed for mobility and freedom, made more than I ever could before, saved up a comfortable five figures, and travelled the world for years. The new dream. The new rich, as Tim Ferriss would say.
And I did this all in my early twenties, a time that is usually turbulent and confusing.
But to my own new standards, I haven’t ‘made it’ at all
If you relayed my current life circumstances to 20-year-old me, I would be absolutely thrilled. I know this because I was her, and I remember my definition of ‘making it’ at that age. Being able to travel for extended periods of time, and make good money at the same time? Having an audience to share my writing and photographs with? That was the dream.
As I slowly reached my goals, new goals replaced them.
What I crave as a 23-year-old is a creative business that generates multiple six figures. To be able to have a business that helps other creatives reach their goals. To be able to connect with people who share my mindset, and to create tangible impact.
With that in mind, I haven’t ‘made it’ at all, because what constitutes as ‘making it’ is constantly shifting.
Doesn’t the whole concept of ‘making it’ seem incredibly haphazard and irrelevant now?
Once I achieve my 23-year-old goals, my 26-year-old self might crave building water wells in Africa, or simply having a child and being a great mother.
Here’s a great catch 22: My mother, a 50-year-old highly accomplished designer, now craves what I’ve already done: the freedom to travel and live for extended periods abroad. She never had the opportunity in her twenties, whereas a nomadic lifestyle is common in our day and age.
We’re banking on a vague feeling of reassurance that is subject to change as we do. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to erase the idea of ‘making it’, instead being proud when we have achieved and learn the lessons that come with falling.
Next time you’re feeling impatient about your progress, think about what you defined as ‘making it’ three years ago. Chances are, at some level, you’re already living your definition of success.