If I asked you, “What would you consider to be a successful life,” what would your answer be? Think about it for a moment. Next, imagine I asked you, “What makes you happy?” Think about your response to that as well, then compare both answers. They may be entirely different—and they most likely are.
But shouldn’t the two go hand in hand?
I asked a friend what he considered to be living a successful life. He said being at the top of his career. The next day, I asked him what he considered to be living a happy life. He spoke of cherished moments with his girlfriend and his family, traveling and experiencing all he could while he could.
There was a time in my life where I “had it all,’ as they say. I had a secure job that let me put money in my bank, food in my fridge, and a roof over my head; I had the $1,200 loft apartment with a balcony that overlooked a shopping center; and a car that was completely paid off. My days consisted of waking up at 6, getting to work at 8, and working 10-12 hour shifts 5-6 days a week. At the end of the day, I’d use what time I had left to shower, cook, and write as much as possible before having to lie down and repeat the process.
But although I “had it all,” I still, in a sense, didn’t have much of anything. Not really. I was empty. And I was empty because I wasn’t doing what I loved. I was alive, but not living. My body was essentially just going through the motions required to keep things moving. Like a cog in some machine I didn’t at all want to be part of. It kind of sucked.
Then one day after work, I came home with that classic I’m about to have a mental breakdown mood (my boss and I weren’t getting along, to say the least), and tried to relax with the little time I had left in the day. But instead, I decided to break up with my girlfriend (for the last time). After she left, I then looked around at everything (both literally and metaphorically) and began to reevaluate.
What I knew was this: I knew that I wasn’t happy. And I knew something needed to change.
I also knew that the only space in that whole overpriced apartment that I actually cared about was the 3×3 space around my desk where I sat every night to write. Everything else was filler—pointless materialistic shit (most of which were impulse buys) I’d stuffed myself with because I thought it’d make my empty life feel a bit more complete. Because I thought little expensive nothings was how success was measured. Because I thought that’s what actual adulting was supposed to look.
And I know I’m not alone in that thinking. How is anyone supposed to think otherwise when every time we turn on the radio there’s some new twenty-something artist talking about how their receipts look like phone numbers?
“If what you’re doing isn’t working, change it.”
It didn’t take but a moment of reevaluating before I knew what I had to do: PURGE.
During that time when I was trying to fill my emptiness with shiny little trinkets that served no purpose in my life, I couldn’t have imagined ever getting rid of them all. Then, I did just that. I took pictures of everything I had, posted them to 5 Mile (where I built a nice little reputation), bartered, and sold. Everything. Within three days, all of what was left could fit in my car. I had successfully, and happily, stripped my life down to the basics.
(Side note: it wasn’t near as hard as I had imagined.)
So how does one end up completely mistaking success and happiness?
At the risk of sounding like some sub-psychotic cliché, society is constantly distorting what we believe to be success. What we believe to be happiness. You have to be rich, at the top of your career (even though you hate your job), drive a Tesla, have an iPhone, and at least 20k followers on Twitter. AND you have to share every second of that glamorous life with Instagram or it’s not real.
If you can’t check off all the boxes under the Criteria for Success Checklist, then you’re a failure. And even if you can check them all off then you’re still not happy. Why? Because your priorities are all off. You’ll never be able to get enough. You’ll always want more. More followers, more money, more promotions…
In the words of The Notorious B.I.G., “Mo money, mo problems.”
“Take me back to the basics, and a simple life
Tell me all of the things that make you feel at ease
Your touch, my comfort, and my lullaby
Holding on tight, and sleeping at night”
-Troye Sivan, Ease
I realized my unhappiness had stemmed from my own life choices. I was doing what everyone else was doing, trying to find success through everyone else’s eyes and expecting happiness to follow right behind. But it didn’t. So every time I took a step like buying something new or working my ass off at a job I didn’t care for, I waited for pleasure but it never came, and that actually made me feel worse. It wasn’t until I stepped life down to its bare bones that I realized my idea of success was much different.
Now, of course, I’m not saying everyone needs to break up with their girlfriend, quit their job, and sell everything they own so that they can remember what the basics of life are… That’s just silly. Besides, I’m pretty sure all my impulsive decisions came at the hands of some kind of mental breakdown. Either that or an early onset midlife crisis.
Everyone has their own idea of success, everyone has their own idea of happiness, and that’s that, I can’t change it. I don’t even want to. If you can take one thing from this post—all I ask is that you find clarity of your core values. In a society that revolves around materialism, make sure you know the most valuable things you can possess are memories.
Thank you all for reading.
I know I haven’t posted in the past month (it’s hard to believe it’s been that long), but I suppose I’ve been taking some personal time. Right now I’m about to buy a van that I plan to convert into a camper so I can travel a bit more comfortably. I look forward to sharing the journey with you all.
Till next time,