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What does success really look like? Maybe not what you meme.

You’ve seen those internet memes, right? The ones that compare “how people think success looks” to “how success really looks.”

Like this one:

The plan is to bicycle the straight path from start to finish. The reality is valleys full of rocks, water, climbing, choosing different modes of transportation
and weathering storms before reaching success.

Or maybe you’re more familiar with this one:

People think success is a straight line up, but when you enter the path, you go through many twists and turns until you arrive at your destination.

And there are other varieties, of course, but the one you choose doesn’t matter. They’re all lacking in one area: they assume you still want the exact same goal by the time you get to it.

A different perspective

Many folks end up with me when they’ve reached the career or education goal they’ve set. Or they’re about to. When they first set that goal, it was solid and defined, but a bit fuzzy around the edges, as you would expect. Then they got through the messy part and are ready take a hold of the goal.

But from their new up-close perspective, there are sharp edges on it and scratches in places. And then panic sets in, because they are no longer sure that they still want the goal the way they see it now. Questions flood their brains:

  • Was all the effort and sacrifice for nothing?
  • Do they have to start all over?
  • Are they doomed to languish in a career they hate?
  • And the big one: what now?

Moving forward

I’m a big fan of the idea that there are a lot of things you simply can’t or won’t know until you try them. Time spent working toward something you want is never wasted, no matter what the outcome is. Even if you no longer want the goal in the same way, the messy part teaches you a lot about yourself and the world around you.

So how do I advise people to you move forward when they arrive at this place? There are a few questions you can ask yourself to help figure out what to do next.

What is it about the goal that no longer resonates with you?

Get specific and be honest with yourself about what you couldn’t see from a distance. What isn’t what you expected? How can you get the information you need to make the right decisions now?

What do you have to offer now that you didn’t before?

The job, post-secondary program or other experience you were in has given you something you didn’t have when you started. Do you like using that new something? Would you use it in a different job, team or organization? And where do you need to continue to develop experience so you can start building toward your next goal?

Do you have to adjust right now, or can it wait?

When we’re faced with adversity, it seems like fight-flight-or-freeze jumps right in, and we have this urge to fix it now. But chances are you’re not in a life-threatening situation (if you are, definitely RUN far and fast). And just because it looks different than you expected doesn’t mean it won’t work. Can you live with the difference between goal and reality?

As cheesy as it sounds, life really is a journey. And the only way to avoid getting it wrong is to never try.

And that’s kind of the ultimate “getting it wrong.”

Has your definition of success changed recently? Are you struggling with the transition from school to work? Give me a shout, I’d love to help!

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