The Definition of Success

My birthday is around the corner and as I grow older (which one hopes will come with more wisdom), all the pieces of my life are starting to fall into place. I’m beginning to get to really know myself—what I love and what I can’t stand, the strength of family and friendships, that quality truly is more important than quantity, and all of the other promises and perils of being an adult—and to be brave enough to embrace who I am without making excuses. Above all else, the last year has helped me redefine what success means to me.

When I first started thinking about career options for myself, I gravitated towards things that paid high salaries. Money meant success in my eyes.

“Oh, look. An architect can make up to $200,000 a year.”
“Wow! Being a pharmacist pays really well.”
“I want to be an anesthesiologist and make $300,000!”

It was pretty silly of me.

I did my research and realized that architects work with numbers which I abhorred, the work environment for a pharmacist was too sterile and lackluster for my right-brained self, and that becoming an anesthesiologist meant 12 years of education and an uncomfortable amount of that big, juicy salary goes to malpractice insurance. No thanks.

That’s when I gave up trying to figure out what paid more and decided to follow my heart.

“Surely I can climb the advertising agency ladder to become a Creative Director and make loads of money, right?”, I thought.

I ended up leaving my $12/hour job selling purses at Dillard’s and became a design intern making $10/hour. Did losing the extra $2 an hour mean that I wasn’t on track to becoming successful? Maybe.

After spending 8 months as an intern, I made the biggest decision of my life (at that point): I moved to New York City. It gave me the perfect opportunity to hone my skills, work at a large advertising agency so I could climb that figmental ladder, and of course, make that large New York salary. The cost of living difference between Texas and New York wasn’t relevant to me because the paychecks were larger and that’s all that mattered.

One piece of advice I received was “if you want to make a salary jump, you have to switch companies”, so I hopped between agencies and each time I did, my salary increased. It was working!

When I finally broke the 6-digit salary barrier, I felt like I was on top of the world. Being and feeling successful was coming to fruition! I was winning at life.

And then something happened. I started to feel heavy. Stagnant. Listless. Uninspired. I knew I needed a change but that bug in my ear kept telling me that this feeling was worth it because my paycheck was bigger than my thirst for things. All the things. Things I knew I really didn’t need anyway.

After playing rounds of tug-of-war with my subconsciousness, I figured out that what I really needed was to take on a new adventure so I started seeking out a new job.

And then something else happened. After a few interviews, I sat myself down and spoke sternly to my own heart.

“Am I failing? What’s wrong with me? Am I crazy to even consider changing jobs knowing that I will be losing my hefty New-York-in-Texas salary? I can’t go back to making a 5-digit salary, that’s just ridiculous! Why can’t I just deal with this feeling of lethargy? Other people can deal with it, so why can’t I? Would losing this money all be worth it? And, for what? What am I really looking for?”

The results of that conversation changed my life.

I realized that success isn’t defined by a salary or the amount of a paycheck. It isn’t the quantity of things that you own, the brand of car you drive, or the size of your house. Success should breed happiness and never leave you uninspired. Success is being able to sustain the perfect balance between living life to it’s fullest extent and spending as much time as you can with the people you love. It’s about making just enough income to live comfortably but not too much so that you don’t become burdened by the responsibilities that come with making too much.

“Well, what if my friends judge me because I’m not able to afford…”
Then they aren’t friends.

With this new revelation in place, I once again followed my heart.

I am now working with my husband, who is not just my business partner or the love of my life, but my best friend and confidant. We’re not out to strike it rich. What we have done is surround ourselves with the most intelligent, fun-loving, carefree group of designers that we know. Together, we get to create our own atmosphere. To define our own vision. To grab a drink on a Tuesday. To travel to see family on a whim. To be able to enjoy a Friday afternoon talking about the things that inspire us. To partner with and be moved by the ideas of our clients. To sleep in every now and then. To go bowling late on a Sunday night without fearing Monday. To live. To learn. To be passionate without reservation.

That, to me, is pretty successful.

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