Rethink “Success” to Find Purpose in Your Career

Since I wrote my last post on productivity and building routines, my mind has felt a bit clouded. 


I’ve been searching for inspiration to write, but haven’t had any. I’ve been thinking about what I want for my career, and haven’t found answers. I’ve been preaching good routines, but haven’t built many.


But here’s what is so frustrating: I really, really want to. I’m eager to write, set goals, and build routines. I’m aspirational and ambitious beyond belief, but I’m struggling to understand what I’m ambitious for.


This is particularly true when it comes to my career. I’m asking questions like:


Where do I want to be in ten years? Am I doing everything I can do get there as fast as possible? How are my peers doing at work? Am I falling behind?


I know a lot of people find themselves asking similar questions. A good friend of mine, Janey Brown, posted a quote the other day that really sums up the feeling:


When every last drop of sweat, blood and tears is drained from me… My million dollar question is still “Am I doing enough?” tweet


Many of us feel the stress of wanting to do more and be better. Personally, I’m constantly comparing myself to others, and I’m hungry to excel and outperform. I can’t help it – I am intensely competitive to a fault.


But here’s what I’m realizing… it makes absolutely no sense to compare yourself to others. Sure, being Top 20 Under 20 or 30 Under 30 sounds sexy, but does it really mean a fucking thing? 


Just like you never know when you are going to find love, you never know when your career is going to take off. The reality is, almost everything in life is out of your control. So how do we stay dedicated and passionate about advancing our careers, while limiting the amount we stress about where we’re headed? Focus on the process, not the outcome.


Searching For Meaning

I had an eye-opening conversation with Matt recently, who had just finished the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As Frankl states in his book, almost everything in life is out of your control, but the one thing you do have control over is your own inner sense of purpose and meaning. For Matt, his realization after reading the book was that his sense of meaning is centered around adding value to the lives of those around him. He wants to be seen as someone who inspires, shares knowledge, makes you think differently, and helps you strive to live a more fulfilled life.


After our conversation, I started looking inwards. I’ve realized that being obsessed with success, and tying a specific outcome to success, has proven to be more hurtful than helpful for me. Let me break that down for you…


Money Does Not Define Career Success

Since I got into tech after university, I’ve been captivated by stories of entrepreneurs who hit it big. They launched a high growth company right out of school, moved to California to raise big VC dollars, and eventually sold the company, making them instant multi-millionaires in their mid-20s. 


In short, my idea of a successful career has revolved around making huge amounts of money at a very early age. This became my North Star, my career goal that I hoped to one day achieve: start a technology company, “kill it” over the course of a few years, and exit for big dough. That is the so-called “dream” that many people chase in tech these days, and it is easy to get caught up in.


I’ve now realized that this mindset has been a major handicap for me. When you are constantly grasping and longing for wealth, you end up feeling lost and inadequate. You can’t force fortune – it takes years of hard work to build. So don’t lose sleep stressing over it in your day-to-day.


When it comes down to it, less than 0.01% of the population get to live the Silicon Valley fairytale described above, and who says those people are happier than the rest of us anyway? (If you’ve never seen the documentary Happy, it is a must-watch on this topic)


The key point that I’m starting to understand, as cliché as it sounds, is that there is much more to life than a big paycheque. 



Find Your Guiding Lights

As I’ve looked inwards, I’ve come to some clarity on what keeps me feeling fulfilled in my career.


I absolutely love being an entrepreneur… but it’s not because I want to move to California and shmooze with a bunch of suits with big chequebooks. In fact, the sheer thought of doing that makes me nauseous. 


No – I love being an entrepreneur because I love to create, and I love to take ownership. These are the two guiding lights that steer me. I love finding solutions to problems, and building them from the ground up. I’m most creative when I’m designing processes and products. I thrive when I have to perform under pressure, and I always execute with keen attention to detail. These are the things that draw me to entrepreneurship.


I’m betting that if I focus on these feelings of purpose that drive me forward, rather than stressing about working towards a specific and vain career outcome, it will be a lot easier to be happy day-to-day. I have no idea what my life is going to be like at 35, so why should I aspire to have a specific role in a specific industry?


Look at Alan Gertner – he thought that working in the high ranks at Google was his dream job, but when he finally got there, he realized his North Star wasn’t really that great after all. He found happiness by starting a business that combines all of his favourite things – coffee, cannabis, and fashion. And his business is skyrocketing


If career success is going to lead to happiness, it has to be organic. Click To Tweet


You can’t grasp for success. You can’t force it. If you try to, you’ll likely end up in a role you thought you wanted but you really don’t.


Closing Thoughts

Maybe we should take things in smaller increments.


What is going to make you happy this year? This month? This week? Focus on things you can control. Focus on what makes you happy in work and in life, and be thankful for those things. Don’t worry about the long-term, but be incredibly ambitious in the short-term. You will never be able to predict where you are at in 10 years. You never know who you will meet or what opportunities will come about. So focus on finding meaning and happiness, here and now.


If you don’t feel like you are doing the right things day-to-day, by all means make a change. But if you are doing everything you can, just be patient. Trust and believe that things will work out in your favour, and I bet you they will.

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