I have this fear that I’m going to fail. And by fail, I mean that I will not succeed in what I have set out to achieve.
I recently saw a TED talk by Shawn Achor on happiness and success called ‘The happy secret to better work’. I stopped whatever I was doing on my phone (probably – no definitely – playing Bejewelled) and started listening.
The reason this talk resonated so strongly with me, is because I quit my job to see what it’s like to live abroad while still trying to further my career. I’m essentially ‘trying to have it all’, or at least trying the concept out to see what happens.
When you move abroad with no fixed plans, it can be both liberating and terrifying at the same time. Having time to think and reflect on things is great, however, getting stuck inside your head is definitely not good for your mental wellbeing. When you have nothing but time on your hands, I guess it’s easy to let your mind runaway with you.
On any given day, my mood can change much like the infamous weather here in Wellington. I can swing from insanely optimistic, carefree, ‘living the dream’ to agonising over whether: I’ve done the right thing (past tense), I’m currently doing the right thing (according to whom anyway I ask?), what I should do in the future, if I’ve made the best decision, plans: a, b, c, d, e, f and g (just in case!). And so on.
During my first week in Wellington I was particularly unsettled. I started considering new career paths that I might take (haven’t I given this career enough time already? And yet I still don’t seem to be getting anywhere up the career ladder – but then I reason that this is partly because I keep moving around?). I’ve considered being a counsellor before, never 100% seriously but I’ve researched what I’d need to do. And it takes a long time.
Okay, I’m not looking for a ‘quick fix’, I know how to work hard. But I guess the thing is, I’ve been working hard, really hard in everything I’ve done to progress my career so far. If I change now, I’m going to have to start all over again. Maybe the issue is me. Maybe these gaps affect my confidence and I end up taking a few steps back each time, instead of remembering everything that I’ve achieved. Maybe I’m subconsciously sabotaging myself? (Getting deep hey!).
I decided to talk about this with my Mum. She’s so good at this stuff, she’s the best. So I said to her: ‘what do you think about me re-training to be a counsellor, to change my career path, but wait, here’s the dilemma, I’m fed up of waiting for my career to start, I don’t want to keep waiting, so what would I do while I’m re-training?’
She asked me some questions: ‘what is it you want to start right away?’ And ‘what do you mean: what will happen in the meantime?’.
Well, I thought about this, and said ‘if I end up studying part time, what work will I do to support myself?’ – or at least this is what I implied in a roundabout way.
She said: ‘what would you like to do? You’re free to do whatever you want to’ (she’s so supportive! I know – I’m really lucky)
I said: ‘I want to help people. And I feel like, I’m at the bottom of my career ladder, even though I’ve got some really good experience. I feel like I’m no further along, and I don’t want to be stuck at the bottom. But I also feel like maybe I haven’t found my thing yet? I feel ready to start right now though, so the idea of spending years training makes me feel like I’m not getting there any quicker?’
My mum said: Whatever you choose, the learning never stops and ultimately, a career is like a journey. It’s not necessarily about the end destination – although it can be hard to see this at the time. She told me I have time to decide, that I can see what’s out there and most importantly, that it’s okay to change my mind.
I guess this next point must’ve been really important to me at the time because I found myself repeating ‘maybe it is about the journey but I just don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere right now’ and this is when I started to figure things out.
She challenged me: ‘Okay, where do you want to get, and why?’
Hmm I knew immediately what my answer would be:
‘I want to be successful in my career because I think that’s what I’ve always wanted and I don’t think I am right now?’
She simply responded: ‘What would success look like?’
I said: ‘Umm I would be happy in my job, doing a variety of tasks, working my way up?’ (Notice how I answered with a question – that means something right?).
Perhaps this conversation and my thoughts afterwards, coupled with the TED talk explain why I found it so profound. It gave me the clarity I needed.
I mean, there’s a guy on screen in front of me, redefining success and in turn, happiness. And suddenly everything sort of falls in to place. I said that when I moved abroad, my intention was to get my ideal job, or at least get closer to it, which would be with a charity or cause. I’ve started considering internships as a means to gain experience. But perhaps the biggest realisation I’ve had is maybe I won’t find what I came here for. But maybe that doesn’t matter.
Maybe the most important thing is to try it out. If it doesn’t work, it isn’t a failure because at least I tried. As long as I make the most of every situation. If it doesn’t work out the way I had hoped / planned / expected, that’s okay because at least I’m trying it out!
The problem that Shawn Achor highlights is that we continually shift the goal posts, we keep succeeding but we don’t allow ourselves enough time to enjoy these successes before we set the next goal. Broadly speaking, how can you ever enjoy anything if you are continually looking for ‘the next thing’. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, which is why I try to live in the present and enjoy every moment. Happiness is not the next; job, place, experience. Happiness is now. Or else we might ask:
“if not now, when?”
I particularly like this phrase. Why do we put things off? Why are we so unable to live in the present moment and enjoy it for what it is? Why are we so afraid to try new things? To at least try a dream out?
I think there has to be a balance between striving to achieve whilst also acknowledging past achievements and that it’s okay to not be where you thought you’d be at any given stage in your life. I think a lot of this ties in with the quarter life crisis, and the fact that so many people end up being unhappy because they try to live the way they think that they should be living (according to who?!) instead of living the life they want to for themselves. I suppose there is a fine line here between being selfish and all that.
But ultimately, your life is yours. As is your happiness. And your success.
Maybe the question should be: what is ‘failure’ anyway? What does it look like to you? Although this perhaps takes on a slightly negative tone, the question is still valid.
To me, failure would be to not make the most of every opportunity. To give up on New Zealand before I have given it a proper chance. Failure would be to give up on my career after investing so much time. I mean, in reality, this is just the beginning. Everything is the beginning until death. We always think that a career, marriage, children, travel etc is the end goal.
But really it isn’t. Finding a job is just the beginning of a career journey that might last a lifetime – who knows where they will end up when they take a job? And marriage, marriage is just the beginning of a new chapter, it certainly is not the end – I’m not getting married but I’m using this as an example because I think it really highlights the point.
My thinking is that maybe the ideas of success and failure change as we grow older, and we gain more perspective on life. Sometimes perspective is all you need. And maybe ‘successs’ and indeed ‘failure’ are relative terms. In the grand scheme of things.