I read a lot about career development, the psychology of work and what it means to be happy in life. I also find it fascinating to see how others approach these aspects of their lives. I recently put two things together that I had not thought much about. The first part, which isn't hard to find living in the suburbs, was something I noticed about people who are worried about perceptions. Some people need to have a certain house or a certain car or whatever. While I can't entirely relate to people who find the external validation important, I do understand that it might be related to a sense of achievement. The second part of this was something that struck me in a blog post I was reading, where the author felt that given certain parameters, they had "arrived" and were successful.
That made my head spin a little. What does it mean to have arrived? I assume it means that you've achieved some kind of status, or combination of things that define the successful ascension from nobody to somebody. As you might expect, my next question was, "Have I ever felt that I've arrived?"
I can think of just two instances where I've felt that way, and both eventually led to disaster. The first was when I started working in Cleveland radio. I got into a "major" market (read: not Mansfield, Ohio) right after college, and it's what I thought about pretty much all through school. It turned out to be a horrible job with more horrible pay than I expected, and the industry was vile. The second time was in 2001, around the time I was recently married, bought my first house and landed a "real" developer job. The job disappeared later that year, I got divorced a few years later and the house cursed my existence for a number of years.
The problem with this arrival concept is that it's based wholly on two lies that our culture teaches us. The first is that there is some arbitrary measure of success, and once you've reached it, you win. As our environment is always changing around us, I think we know that there is no such thing as any permanent state of winning. The second lie is that we're always on some path to a destination because that's what we're supposed to do.
Here's the thing though, success is arbitrary, and once you fully embrace that, it's a freeing experience. If you distill it down to being happy and being able to provide for people you care about (which is not strictly a monetary issue), to me that's success. Furthermore, if you always have a destination in mind, you risk missing out on what's going on right in front of you, to say nothing of the "now what?" feelings if you get to where ever it is you think you're supposed to go.
My advice is pretty simple: Be goal oriented and have an agenda, but keep in mind that if your "arrival" is the way you measure your life, it means you've decided that you're less of a person until you get there. That's not a great way to live.
Why am I thinking about this? I think because it has a certain amount of context for me right now. I recently wrapped up a successful year-long contract job, got a new job that is challenging, just bought a house, have a beautiful and loving wife, and a (usually) wonderful little boy. By cultural standards, I'm living the dream, but if I distill it down to the basics, I've been living the dream for many years, even in the midst of certain kinds of chaos. I didn't arrive, I'm just constantly traveling.