My senior year of high school, I had the genius idea of taking AP Physics, AP Calculus, and AP Statistics, all at the same time.
I pushed myself so hard that year all because I wanted to earn college credits and therefore graduate from college in less than four years.
I did that.
I started working a full-time job at the age of 19 and earned my bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.
I figured that if I got my degree early and had some experience under my belt, I’d be ahead of the game career-wise and would be taking steps towards my journey up the quote-on-quote career ladder. If I did this, I would be a few steps closer to becoming the VP of some great company where my work would consume all of my energy every day.
That’s what success looked like most of my life.
I was taught, growing up, that in order to be a successful woman I’d have to work really hard so that I could one day break through these ceilings that were said to be made of glass. And if I did manage to achieve this, well, I’d become the much-respected senior executive of some company where I would spend 40+ hours every week.
That’s what I was supposed to want.
That’s what I’ve always been capable of doing.
To not reach that goal, I was told, would be a waste of my potential. It would be a waste of my intellect. I would be a failure.
So all my life, this is the goal that I’ve worked towards.
In doing so, however, I’ve allowed others to determine what success looks like in my life.
A few years later, having been in the workforce, I look at the senior executives of many great organizations and I think to myself…really? This is what I want? This is what I’ve worked so hard for all these years?
To work 60 hours a week? To not have time to do the things that I love to do? To have better relationships with the strangers I go to meetings with once a month than with the people I’ve known all my life?
Something’s wrong here.
I know, in my heart, that I DON’T want that.
But I’m supposed to, right?
I’m smart, I’m ambitious, I have big dreams…OBVIOUSLY that’s what success looks like, right?
You see, success can’t be defined so narrowly. Success, also, shouldn’t be defined for you by anyone else. Success is very personal and it varies.
My definition of success can be very different from your definition.
Likewise, my definition of success at 22 can be very different from my definition of success at 40.
The point is that today I look back on the past few years of my life and although I don’t regret the way my life has played out, I wish that I had allowed myself to form my own definition of success.
Without the influence of society.
Without the influence of my friends.
Without the influence of my parents.
Success should have been between me and me alone.
Today, when I think of success, I don’t think about working for some multi-million dollar corporation managing all of the best accounts, swiftly climbing the corporate ladder.
Instead, I think about being happy. I think about finding a career that I love, one that challenges me. I think about a career that allows me to help others, that allows me to give back in some way. I think about having time to travel and hang out with my friends. I think about making sure that I have enough time to devote to a relationship and building a family one day. Success, to me, means being inspired and having interesting work to do. Success, therefore, is not being bored.
That doesn’t make me any less ambitious.
That doesn’t make me any less determined.
It just means that I’m working towards something different.
And I’ll never apologize for that.
I think that Generation Y wants to succeed, we want to be successful. But at the same time, our picture of success is very different from that of generations before us. The idea of working 80 hours a week behind a desk with no time to pursue our other interests is not really all that appealing.
That’s why we’re asking for flex time.
That’s why there no longer exists a corporate ladder.
That’s why we’re seen as so demanding.
And for that… I’m sorry that I’m not sorry.