Updated: Jan 18
In the Ferrari or Jaguar, switchin four lanes with the top down screamin out, money ain't a thang! This is a picture of success that Jermaine Dupri so eloquently laid out for us in the late 90’s and was in many ways my working model for success growing up. I think this definition of success lives in some shape or form in the minds of a great many in our populace.
So, what’s your definition of success? I mean really, have you ever stopped to think about what success means and what it specifically means to you? Have you ever analyzed the path you’re on and where it’s headed to see if you, in fact, want to end up there? From birth many of us are loaded in a cannon, aimed in some general direction and shot out into the world hoping we gain enough momentum to land at a target set by tradition. This is to say that many of us live a prescribed life and are unconsciously moving through life fulfilling a mission given to us by either our families, our friends, or societal traditions that we’ve elevated in our lives. This is by no mistake at all given that our educational pedagogy is designed to indoctrinate us into this system and is extremely effective at being the ignitor to the cannon. Go to school, take some tests, get good grades, go to college, get a degree, maybe get another degree, get a job, work hard, get a title, make money, save money, meet your soulmate, marry them, have kids, load kids into your cannon, buy a house, vacation four times a year, retire, die. This is the system we’ve all been given and the system most of us follow never giving it much thought at all aside from the challenges we face in keeping on the course.
The wealthiest among us are often considered proof that this system is valuable and worthwhile and those that choose a different system are thought to be weird or exceptional. This is a system passed down through generations, echoed in our communities, reinforced by our schools and divergence is indulgence.
Like me, you may be totally dedicated to this system and a willing participant in all the phases as prescribed but I ask you, have you really chosen to do so? To make such a choice would suggest that you were made aware of another way, another plan or another idea of a full and successful life. If you’ve never actively pondered what a successful life means to you without accounting for what’s been prescribed, you haven’t really made any choices, you’ve just taken action. I used to think that I independently made the choice of what career to pursue and that’s mostly true except, I was asked to choose the field I wanted to study, not the life I wanted to live.
The real bag has more than money in it, secure that!
For many of us, success is largely defined by money and is too often black and white, i.e., If I obtain this, I'll be successful, if not, I'll be a failure. Enter anxiety, guilt, pressure, insecurities, exhaustion, workaholism, envy and shame! A bank’s primary goal is to obtain, hold and distribute money and therefore the achievement of those tasks can be reasonably considered a success but, people are not banks, at least, not financial ones anyway! My brain does not need money to flourish, my brain needs intellectual stimulation. Money is only useful to create the conditions under which my brain can request what it really needs. Put another way, the bills need to be paid so I can stimulate my brain because my brain is not stimulated by paying the bills alone. Most of us make achieving these conditions (i.e. paying the bills) the priority and never realize that once the conditions are met, our brains still require more than money or ticking some box on the prescribed life checklist to be intellectually stimulated.
The questions, the questions!
Finding your groove starts with some analysis, mainly, asking yourself, who do I think I am now, how do I think I’m perceived, who do I want to be and what kind of life do I want to live? Money is essential to survival but for the purposes of this analysis it must be left out of the consideration. You must go deep beneath the surface on these questions and challenge yourself to brutal and uninhibited honesty. This is work that can turn lawyers into chefs, UPS drivers into music producers, school teachers into DJ’s and big city corporate accountants into off-the-grid farmers. This is the work that got me to Just Eat Life from my career in sales and advertising. 12 years into my 15-year career, I realized I was chasing what I thought my mother wanted, what my peers expected and what my education trained me for without ever giving a thought to my own idea of an ideal life. This felt like a grave mistake and as it turned out, the proof would be in the pudding!
The proof was in the pudding!
I’ll never forget it. I was working for an ad agency and sitting in a pitch meeting with the brand manager of a popular grocery pudding brand that I would never under any circumstance eat myself. There I was, young, hard working, well-dressed and about to stand before some guy in a suit to explain how I thought we’d get a bunch of people we didn’t understand to buy a product I didn’t care about. It was at that moment, I thought, “what the fuck am I doing here?” Then, just like that, my life changed forever. That moment in that conference room began several years of searching: trying things and hating them, trying other things and hating those too, liking things and then realizing I hated those things. I did this all the while eating myself alive in self-loathing whilst I compared my journey to others and measured my worthiness on a success metric I no longer even believed in. What did I believe in? I had no fucking clue! In all my earnest effort to discover my true self and where I belonged, I never gave myself permission to fully commit to a belief in a new definition of success. So, that became the work ahead.
Check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self!
I had to really check myself and letting go of the life prescribed for me was difficult. I had to analyze where my value system came from, what I believed and why I believed it. I discovered that I wasn't truly the Mr. Corporate character I thought I should be. I realized that although I wanted enough money to feel secure, my ambitions did not include mansions and private jets nor did they include a house in the burbs with 2.5 kids. I learned that job titles meant very little to me and all I wanted to do was make, share, repeat. I wanted a life of creation, exploration of ideas and I wanted to surround myself with other people who felt that way. My old ambitions of VP or C-Suite titles, and a top floor office in midtown were just internal goal posts grounded in external ideas prescribed to me by my environment. I had to take control and reload the cannon of my life and aim it at a new target, my own target. This was challenging and uncomfortable work but in the end, it was like deep cleaning: freeing, space-making and it gave me permission to connect my skills to my intentions for my whole life. My work with Jen and Leo at Just Eat Life is now a synchrony between what I’m good at, what I enjoy doing and my intentions and that’s a new definition of success for me.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn lots of money but, is that really your true and only definition of success for life and, did you define it or was it prescribed for you? Take time to think about it and give yourself the permission you need to define success selfishly for yourself. This work is important and liberating because while you may be working your ass off trying to secure the bag, you may not really want what’s inside.