- The Life of JLOWE
- How to define success for yourself
How to define success for yourself
Recognize how your past surroundings have defined success for you
Gung Hei Fat Choy! (Happy Chinese New Year!)
This Chinese Lunar Year is the Year of the Dragon, which is my zodiac symbol from the year I was born in. This year I’m focused on growth, on bringing a fiery spirit to everything that I do, and on doing a lot of introspection and realization of my self-identity.
I’m looking forward to a year of manifested successes, and that’s led me on a journey to understand what it is that “success” really means for me, how I’ve defined success for myself over the years and what I want to define it as going forward. Clarity on that definition helps me to set goals and to realize when I’m diverting from realizing success as I define it.
“The American Dream”
Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what my future career looks like and as a result also thinking about this idea of “The American Dream” as some people call it, which is the idea of what “success” means in America.
Here’s how it’s defined by Investopedia:
Growing up in Jamaica and moving to the United States for and after college, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve now been exposed to two distinct ideas of “success” as it pertains to a career.
Seeing Success in the Jamaican Context
In Jamaica, my definition of success has always been to work hard and build something great for yourself. From the man on the road selling flowers or sodas to the best reggae musicians or top private sector businesspeople, a lot of the success that I’ve witnessed has been self-made people who have an entrepreneurial spirit and are willing to put in the work to run their own show.
I think it’s really salient here to remember that Jamaica is a developing nation, and so much of the mindset that I’ve been exposed to is centred around this question of “what can I contribute to my country?” or "what’s missing and where can I add value?” There’s a lot of growth opportunity in a developing economy like Jamaica, and I think seeing people in my community fill in the missing pieces slowly over time has shaped my perception of what success is.
That’s really important to me, because it’s made my idea of success a lot more focused on doing something that’s important to not only me, but to the people around me and the community around me on a whole too. I’ve understood that success means pursuing your own dreams, whether that means starting small and growing your own business or just being passionate about doing good for yourself and the people around you.
Success in Corporate America
Moving to America and starting a job in the corporate world has made me realize that in large companies, success is often defined by roles and recognition. That could look like a promotion, a raise or a ‘poaching’ job offer, but it is usually defined by a third party recognising you for your value add to the organisation. This is true in Jamaica too to some extent, especially in the parts that mirror corporate lifestyle, but definitely the corporate world is outsized in America and that has been my experience of working in this country as well.
For me, that’s a really different idea of success than I grew up with, and has prompted me to recognize that across the world, people have radically different definitions of success that drive their actions throughout their lives.
After a recent conversation with an old friend this past week, I’m definitely curious to explore more of the entrepreneurial and creative parts of living in America that exist outside of the corporate world. I do believe that the same “build something for yourself” spirit that exists in Jamaica exists in the US too, but it’s been really unique to pick out that slight nuance that stands out more to me career-wise from my own experiences of both countries.
Why defining success is important
As I slowly figure out life after student-hood I’ve learnt that my definition of success has been shaped a lot by the academic environments that I’ve been in. In high school, success meant taking STEM subjects and doing well. In college, success meant keeping your GPA up. After college, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, success ended up being defined as getting a corporate job in a field like finance.
Without a definition of success outlined for yourself, the world will tell you what to do, and you may end up never achieving success as you define it.
For me, the first step to defining success is to recognize how your direct surroundings have influenced that definition of success over the course of your life. Ask yourself whether you’ve been doing things because they please you or other people. Then, think about how you identify with the things that you call your “successes” in your past.
As you begin to understand what you call success and what achievements you identify with most, you’ll start to be able to define what success means for you in the things that you take on going forward.
Does it mean achieving happiness in what you do? Does it mean making a lot of money? Does it mean building community or maybe does it mean doing something that helps others?
There’s many ways to define success, and usually it’s defined for us by society, our parents, our peers or any other media around us. But once you define it for yourself, and understand what it is that “success” really means for you, you’ll be able to take the steps that are necessary to truly being successful (in your very own way).
Until next Sunday,