“Struggling to Define Success in your Thirties? Maybe You Don’t Have To"
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
I’m where everyone strives to be: 30, single, living alone and attempting, (in my mind failing), to conquer adulthood. Which is how I ended up here in the first place. My FOMO (fear of missing out) morphed into an anxiety I could no longer conquer alone, and I literally feared I would miss out on life if I didn’t start gaining control. The “missing out” is what I was having a hard time understanding. Internally, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I was in a city I loved and focusing on a career that allowed me to be financially independent while escaping a hometown that I had outgrown.
So why did I have this sinking feeling that something was missing? Why was everyone else confirming this feeling? Why did I feel like the only person on earth who had strived to be where I was? The former white noise of questions turned into a constant loop of doubt I began playing on repeat. Why aren’t you dating anyone? Aren’t you worried about having kids? Why are you so focused on your career? I became a master of making excuses for a life that I genuinely enjoyed just to fit the box others wanted to put me in. I used to think that there were only two options for me: get married, have kids, and retreat to the suburbs, or be completely focused on success and a life consumed by my career. I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with either of those options. However, I was setting myself up for feelings of failure when I wasn’t executing either of those to perfection. Any small hiccup in this wildly general life plan sent me into a complete tailspin of self-doubt and disappointment.
When I brought this dilemma to my therapist, she finally asked me “what is success to you?” I had no answer. Rendering me speechless is success within itself, so I grew more and more frustrated that I didn’t know. So naturally, I did what any grown adult would do when they don’t know the answer, I called my mom. And when she didn’t pick up I called my dad. And then when he didn’t pick up, I called my brother (obviously my parents must have been together with no cell service because there is no other reason they wouldn’t immediately pick up to assist with a problem I clearly needed to solve myself). Since that session, I make it a point to ask that question whenever possible. I ask myself daily, I ask my friends, my family, my coworkers, and each person always has a different answer. Full disclosure, I started doing this for selfish reasons to make myself feel better that I didn’t have all the answers, and in case you were wondering, when my parents finally regained service, they didn’t have the answer either.
After nine months of therapy, I’ve finally radically accepted (insert therapy buzz word here) that it’s okay not to know. My definition of success is constantly changing as is my measure of failure. I can’t pinpoint when my mindset finally shifted or exactly what shifted it, but I can tell you that once I defined my priority, I had a new sense of direction. Instead of focusing on what I felt like I was missing, I began focusing on my accomplishments. My priority was myself and I was slowly learning that it was the most important relationship to build. The questions I became so good at answering turned into opportunities to validate that I’m completely content where I am in life. Why aren’t you dating anyone? I haven’t met anyone yet - (Megan Markle’s friends set her up with Prince Harry so my response really should be that my friends are dropping the ball). Aren’t you worried about having kids? No (honestly why do I feel the need to elaborate on that). Why are you so focused on your career? Because I like working and the Nordstrom bill isn’t going to pay itself. Define your success and make it happen, and if you don’t know what success means to you…..don’t call my parents.