How a Decade Changed My Idea of Success

Ever thought about how a decade changes everything? A lot has changed, and I'm looking back at how that has made a huge difference in how I define success.  

I turned 34 yesterday. Like many 30-something birthdays it came and went with a bit of well-wishing and then was quietly another day. Not to say I didn't enjoy it but it was a different enjoyment, a mature moment where I did what I wanted with the time and then settled back into the thrum of daily life. Of course, I use this yearly event to take a breath and look at how far I've come, and how a bit of life under my belt has changed everything. 

I still vividly remember the feeling in my chest. I was a young adult, taking the first grueling steps along the path to something more and I just wanted to hurry up and get “there” to arrive at success, at that moment when I realized what I was here to do with these talents and dreams buried in my chest. I felt like it would be a moment of clarity, when all of the soft, fuzzy edges of life came into focus and the puzzle pieces snapped together. Then, came the crush of real life. It was overwhelming to balance passions, hobbies, and a budding career while getting married and collecting the trappings of life. I began to feel trapped between my dreams and my reality, and the real world felt like it pulled me further away from that hazy goal of “success”. At the time, I was like most excitable kids, fully unaware of the work it takes to become something worth being and I wanted it now. I worked hard and spent a lot of my time becoming something I thought I wanted.

At the time, here was my goal list (summarized):

  1. Make money (passive income like rentals, investments, sophisticated investment vehicles)

  2. Buy stuff (big house, new cars, boat, vacation house, computers, tvs, status stuff)

  3. Work less than 20 hours per week

  4. Travel the world


It was actually extremely detailed, very well thought out, and completely clueless. Looking at it now, I can see the optimism, the hope in what was going to happen in the next decade. I was going to be that smiling success on the cover of a magazine and people were going to know me. To my credit, I did work hard, and I accomplished many things on that list.

But my life became a blur. Seriously, I don't know what happened to my 25 through 29 year old self, it all just blends into a big mess of long nights and longer days.

In many ways, that hustle made me who I am and I don't regret it; taking the time to buckle down and make something of yourself is exactly what your 20's are for. I just wish I had taken a bit more time in aiming that barrel before firing off at the goals.

When I turned 30, I realized something important. Stuff won't make you happy, and status won't fulfill your soul. I'm not against nice things, but I am fully against an abundance of things for the wrong reasons. I heard once that you should pick up each of your belongings and ask yourself “does this make me feel happy, does this provide value to my life?” I should have done that with my 20 something list of goals, and I think I would have rewritten the list to something more meaningful. Today, here is my list:

  1. Two sources of income (a few rentals within the next 10 years), and enough to save for tomorrow while living today.

  2. Pay off my stuff (Average nice house, average nice car, quality stuff that lasts).

  3. Work somewhere with flexibility, doing something that challenges me, and where I provide value.

  4. Spend time with my family and explore the world, grow as a human and never stop learning. 

Honestly, the list has changed in a way that excites me. It is honed, stripped down, and tapered to acknowledge that life is meant to be lived, not conquered. I want to look back in a decade and have the satisfaction that I lived it well, creating memories and stories that I can be proud of.