Originally published on LinkedIn by Renee Lo Iacono.
A few days ago, I received an email from a gentleman who I met at a party the previous weekend. Two former pharmaceutical sales colleagues hosted the party and the majority of the people in attendance were somehow connected to that industry.
I was flattered when I read in his email, “It’s great to meet someone who’s been able to make a way for themselves without falling into the traditional norms of “success” which made me think about how we define success, especially in American culture.
While I was in high school and college I wanted to be successful because I didn’t feel as if either of my parents were. At the time I didn’t realize that both of my parents grew up in poverty–my mom in the Philippines and my dad in Sicily–so living a middle class lifestyle in Southern California was success for them.
Growing up I defined success as making six figures before the age of 30 and wearing suits. Well, I soon learned that suits, when worn every day, were quite uncomfortable and that a six figure salary was hardly enough to buy a home in a decent area in Los Angeles. Additionally, although most of my friends and peers considered me to be successful, I somehow felt bored and craved something more challenging and meaningful.
In 2007, while at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood on my 29th birthday, I saw a gentlemen on his laptop while lounging by the pool and thought Aha! That’s what I want! I want the freedom and flexibility to live and work from anywhere in the world on a laptop–nowadays, I prefer an iPad. Even though I was making the most money I had ever made in my life, I thought success would be having complete mobility. Tim Ferriss and Rolf Potts, two of my favorite authors, talk about this in The 4-Hour Workweek and Vagabonding.
That day at the Mondrian Hotel I confided in my two best friends that on January 1, 2009 I was going to quit my job to travel the world and 18 months later I did. After I left my successful pharmaceutical sales career, I moved onto other goals.Goals like living in a foreign country, learning how to kite surf or learning how to speak a foreign language and, I suppose, I was successful at those things too. I learned how to speak Brazilian Portuguese in four-months–my high school and college Spanish classes helped tremendously–and have since lived in Brazil and Spain.
You may also enjoy reading 7 Reasons Why Everyone Should Travel Solo at Least Once or 7 Steps to Save $70K in 18 Months to Travel the World.
Now, I’ve reached another phase in my life where success would be a combination of healing my hip–I suffered a serious snowboard accident when I was 18 which is now requiring my attention or full hip replacement–and finding a meaningful relationship so that I could eventually start a family. So, success can be defined however we want to define it. In the US we traditionally define success by the amount of money we make, the career we have and the things we own. In Brazil, Costa Rica and Spain, people don’t seem to dwell on success as much as they do, let’s say, happiness or quality of life.
I’ve seen and lived among some of the poorest people in Brazil and they seemed happy. They danced, they smiled, they went to the beach and walked to the top of the sand dunes to sit and enjoy the sunset. Yes, it’s a simple life but overall they were content and can’t that also be considered success?
Regardless, each of us has the right to choose what we define as success. Over the years my definition of success has evolved and perhaps yours will too. The important thing is to be true to yourself and live a life that you want in accordance with how you define success.