When it comes to achieving success in life, linear progression simply does not exist. Nor should it.
Before I move on, I should note that success is a relative term. It means different things to different people. To some, it’s finding a life partner and starting a family. To others, it’s financial freedom and/or a particular job title. To others, it’s being grateful and happy for the blessings they have. The definition varies person to person but there are two constants: success cannot be bought and there is no linear path to achieving “it”.
Whether it is the fact that Generation Y has grown up in such an interconnected culture of consumerism or perhaps it is due to our impatient nature, Millennials like myself often want success and want it now. It is almost ingrained in our minds: graduate high school, get a scholarship, go to university, embark on a career, get promoted, get married, start a family, buy a house, start your own company, and on and on… Like it should all happen bang, bang, bang with no hiccups or detours along the way. We often think the dots should connect as we’re filling them in, yet that’s not often how life works.
When we experience these bumps in the road, sometimes they get the best of us and take the wind out of our sails. Our confidence turns fragile, the meaning behind what we’re doing seemingly gets lost and as a result, we yearn for clarity on a path forward. However, what actually happens is counterproductive. Our creativity and willingness to embrace the unexpected is dampened.
We become locked into a linear train of thought that if I do “A”, it will lead to “B”. Almost as if everything has to have a direct and timely outcome. Take things for example like, if I consistently work 80 hours a week, I will get promoted this year. If I read the top 10 recommended books on leadership, I will become a leader. If I go on [insert name of diet], I will lose 15 lbs this month. If I go out three nights a week, I will find someone to be in a relationship with. These are just a few examples but you get the point. This type of linear thinking is often misguided and robs us of the fulfillment and organic growth that can take place if we let it – the type of growth that makes us all unique. This outcome-oriented view makes us believe that if we don’t achieve exactly what we set out to, we have failed.
Take for example, Conan O’Brian. To him, hosting The Late Night Show was the holy grail of comedy. The be-all, end-all. Yet once he finally held the throne, it wasn’t all he thought it out to be. He believed that the role would define him as a person and legacy as a comedian, yet it didn’t. What did define him however was his attitude in handling a difficult and public exit from NBC and his resiliency in learning to share his comedy through other mediums. He summed this up best speaking to the Dartmouth Class of 2011 “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right. Your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention” – Conan O’Brian
He’s right, no one in life gets exactly what they want. It’s the detours in life where there is no manual on how to proceed that builds our character and shapes who we are and who we become.
Thus, in order to achieve success in the form we desire, we should be doing things for the right reasons and with pure intentions, not because it has to lead to something bigger and better. A lot of the actual fun in life happens when we say yes to every experience we can and the swaths of people we encounter when we do. Our best bet is to stop over-analyzing things for fear of what will happen down the road and just put ourselves out there. Reach for the stars. Meet interesting people. Experiment. Veer off track and get a little mud on the tires. Accept that our goals and dreams will change. Embrace it and with a little faith along the way, the pieces will find a way to weave themselves together. At least, that’s what they say…
Steve Jobs quote “you can only connect the dots looking backwards” has never rang more true.