All my life, I’ve been obsessed with being “the best” and doing everything “right,” even though my parents never put any kind of crazy pressure on me to do so. Somehow, I developed this obsession on my own.
I excelled in both athletics and the arts and joined every club I could. He was always straight and graduated from high school in the top ten of my class.
When it came time to get into college, scholarships started popping up. I made sure to hold a place on the dean’s list, and while working as well as going to school and doing an unpaid internship, I was able to graduate with two majors in 3 1/2 years.
In the midst of the 2010 economic crash, I found myself searching for my first job. Out of necessity, I ended up selling outright.
Although I hated this job and couldn’t be further from what I wanted to do, I rose to the top, selling door-to-door cable bundles. I would come home at night after a 12-hour workday and turn off job applications.
I desperately needed a job ‘in my field’. I felt the pain of failure – “What did you work so hard for in college if I couldn’t even find a job?”
Finally, the call came after an interview with my first agency. I started the following week. And here it is: my “career” has begun.
For four years, I rose through the ranks of the marketing and PR agency world, living and breathing to make my clients happy. I had a salary, employer health insurance, and a retirement plan. Those were the things that everyone around me, myself included, equated with success.
But with long hours in the office, and the inevitable catch-up game in which you’re always looking for “the next level,” comes burnout.
You think you’ve made it, but then there’s Jones’ voice and that annoying voice in your head, saying you need more, too. You need to put in more effort, work harder, give up more, earn more, get more, and be able to do more.
It’s a revolving door for “more” where exit always seems out of reach.
This time last year, I had an epiphany with my husband. From the outside looking in, we had it all. But the truth is that we have become slaves to the status quo.
We are stuck within what we can afford while maintaining extravagant city life and the time allotted to us 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 time to take care of our health and travel.
We’ve come to realize that our time and happiness are far more important than any salary or title.
We thought: When we retire, will we want to zip through a forest, fend off a waterfall, or hike in 90-degree weather to the top of a volcano? Why wait until retirement, when NOW really is the best time to explore the world: when we’re young, fit, and capable?
Within weeks, we made the decision to sell almost everything we owned, pick it up and move to Costa Rica. I gave up my salary, health insurance, and employer-sponsored retirement plan. I gave up everything I did “right” seemingly overnight.
These days we live on the beach. We hardly have any material belongings. Sometimes freelance work is plentiful and sometimes we’re trying to figure out what to do next. But we simply live and it works.
Since we moved to Costa Rica in April, we’ve traveled to Chicago, Detroit, Myrtle Beach, Miami, and ten different cities here in Costa Rica, and spent 31 days traveling to 17 different cities in Brazil.
In that first job interview in nearly five years, this wasn’t close to my answer to the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
The truth I’ve discovered in this funky “reversal of success” is that cookie cutters should be left to cookies.
Success cannot be determined by societal pressures, or what others have or have not done.
Perhaps the “status quo” makes some people happy. But for others, it won’t. And why waste your limited time working on something that doesn’t make you happy?
Perhaps a waiter on the beach enjoying the ocean breeze and spending time with yourself when you’re off the clock will make you happier than that company your dad always hoped you’d land for.
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I challenge everyone to take a step and analyze what really satisfies you. What makes you really happy?
It is not about doing what is right. It’s about doing what’s right for you. It is about creating a life as unique and precious as your own happiness, and how each individual looks can be as unique as their fingerprints.
There was a time in my life when I was very proud to have become the driver of my first brand new car. I thought that the car I parked in the work park was somehow indicative of how successful I was. But I am now happier than ever, with no car at all.
Perhaps rather than resolve to do things that bring us closer to what we think success will look like in the new year, the best solution of all is to let go of the need to cater to the status quo.
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Unwritten is a millennial website written and operated by millennials. We are committed to giving Generation-Y the discussion they need, whether it’s a source of news, a much-needed laugh, a reassuring shoulder to cry on, or a place to hear their own stories.
This article was originally published in Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.