Is Your Definition of Success Ruining Your Career?

There was a time in my life when I believed success was a straight arrow pointed upward.

Because I believed this, I ignored my body’s cues when it was exhausted and demanded rest, neglected my hobbies and relationships to make time for my studies and later my career, and ignored my intuition when it asked me to change career direction.

When I decided to become a dentist, I was too young to understand what I was committing to, naïve enough to believe that the extra cash and the professional recognition associated with the field would compensate for any professional unhappiness on the horizon.

By the time I had finished my first year of dental school, it was abundantly clear that dentistry was not the right path for me. I enjoyed the new-found independence of university life and found some of the subjects interesting.

Teeth, however, bored me. Those little pearly whites never captured my attention in the same way writing, or the human mind had in the past. Was this a bad sign?  

I polled my entourage for an answer. Their opinions were mixed.

Some of my friends and family members believed that, indeed, passion is necessary for success. My lack of passion for everything dental indicated that I should find something else to do with my life.

Photograph by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.

Others, however, urged me to press on. In their view, choosing a professional path had less to do with passion than it did with choosing the safest, quickest way to success and freedom. And by success and freedom, they meant making enough money to pay for a safe, comfortable life. Was I not interested in having a safe, comfortable life? They asked. Quitting now would only jeopardize my chances of achieving it.

And so I pressed on, graduating as a ‘doctor in dental surgery’ four years later. I was two months short of turning 23.  I was proud of my achievement, perhaps a little bit arrogant, and convinced that the sacrifices I had made to get my degree would pay off.

Then, I almost had a burnout.

As it turns out, the price of walking down the wrong path for too long wasn’t just making a good living to pay for a comfortable life. It was also a chronic lack of fulfillment and irritability; hopelessness and helplessness; a deep sense that I had betrayed myself and everything I believed in; and ultimately, the threat of impending physical illness.  

Through burnout, I learned the hard way the price of settling for a cheap, society-approved version of success.  

However, burnout was also a form of baptism.

After spending years in a state of anxious overdoing, running from the university clinic home and home to the university clinic, I felt like I had been submerged into a deep, calm river. From inside that river, I could barely see or hear the outside world. However, I could hear my inner voice, and I could feel my heart beating for the first time in years. And both my inner voice and my heart told me the same thing: That there was a different way of living and working, one in which I would never have to neglect my needs or sacrifice what truly mattered to make a living.

All I needed to do, said my inner voice, was follow her. She would show me the way.  

And so I followed. In the years that ensued, my intuition took me out of the dental office and into the corporate world, the nonprofit sector, and finally, the entrepreneurial world, where I finally embraced what I was truly born to do: Empowering men and women to create grounded, authentic career and life paths.

Looking back, I marvel at how every single step of the way shaped me, helped me become more of who I really am, and revealed to me the meaning of true success.  

True success, I discovered, has little to do with making lots of money and achieving a specific level of professional recognition. Even though both can be a natural consequence of following your true path, I no longer believe that making them the end goal is healthy or sustainable.

My definition of true success is simpler, yet so much more powerful: Making a living doing what you love and impacting other people’s lives in the process.

And, as it turns out, the path to true success is rarely ever a straight arrow pointed upward. Straight arrows pointed upward are boring and predictable. They leave little room for creativity, growth, and fun. In the best case, you might end up externally successful, yet internally unhappy. In the worst case, after the rise will come a painful fall.

On the contrary, the path to true success is more like walking down a winding path through an unexplored forest: Every step of the way unexpected, every step of the way beautiful.

I have no way of knowing how the path to your version of true success will look like. However, there are two things I know for sure.

The first one is this: When you let yourself be guided by intuition rather of fear, social conditioning or the negative, limiting stories in your mind, every step of the way will bring you more joy, fulfilment and freedom than the one before.

The second is this: Even though you have all the internal resources and strength to create the life and career you truly want, the path is so much easier when you are not walking it alone.

If you are thinking of changing careers and want guidance, support, and inspiration on your journey, I invite you to join The Career Change Masterclass. Starting March 5th, I will take you and a group of motivated, open-minded career changers on a 5-week journey to discovering your true potential, overcoming the hurdles that are holding you back, and creating feasible options for your next career.

Interested? Find out more here. I look forward to welcoming you to my class.