How To Succeed On Your Own Terms

“Success.” What does the word bring to mind for you? Perhaps a large office with a view, a white picket fence (or at least an expensive beach house), and a minimum of ten countries stamped in your passport. Or maybe it’s a large gold band on your left hand, and and impressive response to the dreaded, “So what do you do?” party question.

Now, stop and think about those ideas for a minute. Is that really what success means to you? Or is it what success means to other people? As twenty-somethings we are completely vulnerable to the abstract idea of success. We know that we’re young, we have dreams, and we want to prove ourselves.

Unfortunately, we’ve fallen for the idea that there’s only one way to do that. But what would it look like to live life on your own terms? To reach for a dream that you want, not one that you’re told to want? (Oh, and for the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a beach house!)

1. Find out what success does mean to you. Not just the definition, but what it looks like for you.

There’s no need to have a five year plan worked out. Start small. What is one way for you to succeed in the life you have now? Maybe it’s pitching an idea to your boss. Maybe it’s planning your meals for the week before plopping down to watch Netflix.

Since I have social anxiety it is a success for me to go to a party and greet each person I know instead of sticking with the person I came with. I refuse to let anyone tell me that that’s not hard. The definition and the challenges fluctuate with each person and every stage of life. If you are following someone else’s requirements for “success” then you are already failing. In his book, “101 Secrets For Your Twenties” Paul Angone writes,

“If you don’t define success, success will gladly define you. Success is the most subjective word in the history of subjective words. If you don’t grab some markers and paint a picture of what it looks like. If you don’t light its candle to see how it smells. If you don’t look it in the eye and call it by its name, then you’re going to chase a figment of someone else’s imagination. You can’t find something when you’ve never actually decided what you’re looking for.”

2. Figure out how to work toward that goal while keeping your eye on what you want.

Whether your requirements for success are large or small, you will need to figure out how to get there — or at least how to start! It’s a lot less intimidating to break things down: instead of “Get an editing position at a big magazine” try, “Re-write my cover letter so I can apply to an editing internship.” Sure, this is classic advice, but that’s because it works!

When I started to re-paint my room I only did one wall a day. No more, no less. The painting was finished within a week. It’s good to challenge yourself, but you need to recognize that you’re not Atlas, either. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

3. Don’t get down on yourself when you can’t meet all the goals.

Not gonna lie: you aren’t going to meet all those goals. Sometimes you’ll cave in and watch five episodes of Friends before the week’s menu is done. Not all those resumes will receive call backs. But when that happens, you keep going.

You’ll have a clear goal that you are working toward, and bumps in the road cannot bring you down! Sometimes we take a roundabout way to success, and we’re all the better for it.

4. Acknowledge yourself and efforts when you do meet goals.

No, I don’t mean having half a bottle of wine every time you send out a resume. But small nods of encouragement to yourself work wonders when you need a reminder that it’s OK that you’re not aiming for what other people think you should.

I for one am tired of being told what should be “good enough” according to everyone else. Success is not objectively measured like inches or ounces. It is entirely subjective to the life that you are living now. Decide what it means to you, work towards it, and above all, be kind to yourself.