What does it take to be successful?

At the time of writing this, I’m 26 years old. I work in marketing for a globally successful business; I have two degrees; I drive what I think to be a nice car; I live in a nice apartment, and I’m engaged to the love of my life and my best friend. But are these things the constitute success? I often spend far too much time scrolling through my social media feeds, reading posts and looking at pictures that my friends post, thinking to myself “God, why am I not that successful?” I have friends from school that have gotten married and I have friends who are earning very healthy salaries in big cities, and are on the road to or have already purchased their first home. I have friends who have shared pictures from every corner of the globe, boasting about how they’ve just helped to rebuild a tribal community with the help of small group of some sort of endangered species, that they spent months teaching English to. Are these the sorts of things that I should be judging my success by?

In a word: no. It’s been five years since I graduated from university and I have to say, not one of the plans I had has amounted to anything more than a daydream or a few excel spreadsheets to work out the cost of making it work. I never moved to Edinburgh nor did I move to South Korea to teach English. I didn’t do my teacher training and become the inspiration for the next generation, nor have I completed my PhD and written my first academic book. I’m not a Member of Parliament, I don’t drive an Aston Martin and I’ve only left Europe once, and that was for a few hours on a day trip to Bodrum. If success is determined by the number of things one ticks off their bucket list or life plan, then you could argue I’m an abject failure.

But I’ve moved on from worrying about the apparent lack of success in my life in recent months and have started on focussing on the positive things in my life, which I believe speak to the contrary to the mantra of “I’m a failure”. Now, I think about all the things I have achieved in my relatively short 26 years on the planet.

I’ve completed both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, whilst working at the same time. I’ve had lots of jobs in different industries and have gained a wealth of experience of the world outside of one small bubble. I have overcome mental health issues and am now a much stronger and more resilient person. I’ve stood for parliament in a General Election, representing my views and beliefs, putting my head above the parapet for all to cast judgement on me. I’ve finally landed myself a job that makes me feel valued and that I feel I’m good at. I’ve managed to live on independently of my family for the last eight years, overcoming some of the struggles that’s presented along the way.

But most of all, and to me most importantly of all: I’ve achieved happiness. I can honestly say I’m happy with my life. Yes okay, I don’t earn obscene amounts of money and I’m (a little) chubbier than I used to be, but when I reflect on the things I have achieved in my life, I’m comfortable enough to say that I have been successful.

And that’s what counts. If you’re comfortable enough to say you’re successful, then who is anyone to deem otherwise? If you’re truly happy with your life, then I’d say that’s the biggest win possible. How many of those people on your Facebook or Instagram feed can say that they’re truly happy?

As a society, we need to stop judging our level of success based on the so-called triumphs of others. Your friend owns a big house and earns more than you do. Who cares? You’ve never left the UK and love holidays to Devon and Cornwall. Good for you – they probably cost less and are far less stressful than the mega-trips to the other side of the world.

What does it take to be successful? That, my friends, is entirely up to you.

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