I’m fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most inspiring and measurably successful people I’ve ever met. I say ‘measurably’ because their success is clearly visible.
A friend recently sold her small business to a global, publicly-listed company—the dream of many startups. Many of my friends in journalism have become well-known news anchors and correspondents. My peers from the luxury magazine industry have gone on to lead top fashion, travel, and lifestyle glossies. Some friends have made it as rather famous actors and singers in certain countries. Several are CEOs, business titans, television execs, tech geniuses, artists, authors, athletes, politicians, top surgeons, lawyers—as I said, visibly successful.
Knowing such driven, ambitious people who often embody single-minded determination is a gift. Conversations with these friends are always intellectual, interesting, positive, motivating. As someone who’s also career-driven, it has kept me stimulated and raring to go higher all these years. Having said that, being surrounded by career success instills a notion of what ultimate success in life is—a notion that’s incomplete and far from being the ultimate. Nonetheless, it makes certain decisions harder to make. Let me tell you what I mean.
For several years, I had a TV job that allowed me to travel the world with a six-figure salary, great colleagues, and a front-row seat to history. It was my dream job. Before that, I was a globetrotting writer for a luxury magazine with access to some of the most influential people and most exclusive places in the world. It was also my dream job. I felt successful, happy, in my element, albeit a little too overworked (by choice). But I digress.
Three years ago, despite living in one of the most expensive parts of central London and bringing home that salary, I became undeniably unhappy. It started gradually, but by the end of it, I would wake up with a knot in my stomach because I was incredibly stressed and no longer believed in what I was doing. Whenever that feeling deep in my gut creeps up, I know it’s time to move on. But I couldn’t do it right away. After many years in television news, my identity had become so inextricably linked to my job. I had forgotten whether I could be an interesting person outside of my interesting job.
On paper, I was visibly successful, just like many of my friends. I was at the top of my game and had every possibility of going even further. So why, for goodness sake, did I want to leave my job? There were many reasons, but the crux of the matter was, I was getting physically sick from being miserable, and my heart was no longer in it.
I left a TV job with a big paycheck because I wanted to be happy.
A disclaimer: I wouldn’t have left my job if leaving would’ve meant putting myself and my family in a precarious situation. I had savings and a husband. That said, my health was suffering and I really needed to be happy.
That’s just it. Happiness is such a subjective state of being that comes in as many different forms as one could think of. Some people don’t see career success as an important factor in overall success and happiness. Family, having children, completing a marathon, travelling the world, living a flexible lifestyle—there are so many ways against which to measure one’s life and sense of fulfilment.
The first few months after I quit was a real rollercoaster ride. I didn’t know who I was without my power job. One good thing was, I had the motivation to keep on moving. I didn’t want to be stagnant, so I started to find ways to reinvent my life and create my own version of a successful, happy and fulfilling life. Little by little, I found my footing and began seeing a whole new world of endless possibilities, where I had more control of my time, where I could earn well without sacrificing my personal life, where I got to be creative and forge relationships beyond my usual circles, where I got to focus on the positive sides of humanity rather than just report on tragedy, war, poverty.
I am still surrounded by visibly successful people, and every so often, I reassess my feelings about what really matters to me at a given point in time. The experience has taught me many things, one of which is this: there is no right answer to what success is. Because happiness is subjective, it isn’t rational to have a one-size-fits-all measuring stick for life. We get to decide how we measure the quality of the lives we live. Forget everyone else’s notion of success, happiness and fulfilment. The most accurate life compass you can rely on lies in your heart and the depths of your gut.