When I was in ten, airports were my vision of success.
I can’t tell you who planted that picture in my grade school brain, considering I grew up in a small town three hours from the nearest terminal. But I could SEE it—twenty-five-year-old Kara, dressed head-to-toe in a suit, blazer unbuttoned, heels on, dragging my roller bag hurriedly to my next gate.
Because even though future me was a badass bitch, she still didn’t take direct flights. Apparently.
It’s so funny how our younger selves visualize success
My goal was an uneducated one (if boarding a flight can even count as a goal). Because while I loved the idea of traveling for work, it’s something I positively hate in practice. I hate being away from my gym, kitchen, and morning coffee shop routine. I don’t own a suit. And I would choose Converse over heels any day of the week.
I could get super deep here and tell you my fantasy airport terminal represented my desire for a fast-paced life. That my time was so valuable and my work so important, it forced me to half-sprint in heels from one flight to the next.
But here’s the truth: What I wanted—more than anything—was a life that seemed impressive to other people
It never occurred that I, someone who values friendship and community, wouldn’t have time to lay down roots if I were constantly traveling. Or that someone who enjoys working out and eating healthy food wouldn’t fair too well living out of a suitcase.
My version of success had absolutely nothing to do with my personal happiness and everything to do with how it appeared to other people. Which is a trap so many of us fall into. We chase a promotion, income bracket, vacation days, relationship, or a wardrobe, because we like how it looks on paper and it’s fun to casual brag at happy hour.
But on the very, very rare off chance someone stops worrying about their own shit to concern themselves with your salary or job title, it’s for a fleeting second. And when that second is over it’s just you and your miserable life, which you erroneously built because you wanted others to envy you. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
It’s the small things we ignore—not the big things we chase—that define us most
Two weeks ago we interviewed Venus Lau on the A-Cup Podcast when the concept of skewed visions of success came up. Venus, a personal trainer and former DI athlete, had a lifelong history of being far too hard on herself, downplaying her accomplishments and never being satisfied with where she was—both in her career or in life.
Before Venus hit twenty-five, she lost both her parents to cancer. And as is common with those who experience loss, she missed the little things about her parents. When her dad passed, she remembers her mom saying, “I would give anything to have just one more fight with your dad.” When her mom passed several years later, she missed the long, annoying voicemails all moms leave their daughters.
Over a decade after her parents’ passing, she still had to be careful in how she measured success. Because if there’s one thing her parents taught her, it’s this: The things that appear small on the surface are what we remember most. We think it’s those big, tidal wave crashing moments that define us—the promotion, degree, or the pay raise—when really it’s the small things we experience daily and how happy those things make us.
Big symbols of success are what we waste our years chasing, forgetting to appreciate the small moments in between
We chase things that bring us external validation and experience guilt when we don’t accomplish certain tasks. Yet when all is said and done, very few of us will regret the work we didn’t do. We will, however, regret the places we didn’t visit, the friends we didn’t make time for, or the times our mom left a voicemail and we were too busy to call back.
I’m still working to redefine my definition of success, but I do understand what makes me happy in my daily life. I enjoy the freedom freelancing gives me, and the fact that I took two walks to sort out my argument for this blog post. I consider my friendships and how I keep in touch from states away my finest qualities. I love that I constructed a routine that allows me to workout midday, eat lunch that wasn’t reheated in a microwave, and walk to-and-from client meetings.
—And I have no idea if the title of freelance copywriter sounds impressive to any of you, and can honestly say I don’t give a shit.