The Price of Success: An Honest Reflection on Achievement

Is there a word for always falling short of extraordinary? When you’re pretty, but not the most beautiful person in the room. When your art is nice, but not timeless. Is there a word for that?

Jack of all trades, master of none. That’s kind of what I mean, but it’s missing the feeling of longing like the world owes you an epic main character plot. If there’s one thing we probably all have in common it’s that we’ve each felt more special than anyone else, like we were meant for more than an ordinary life. I’ve always felt this way if I’m being 100% transparent, but it was more visceral as a kid.

I guess I’ve always romanticized things: memories, myself, and my relationships mostly. I wonder sometimes if that’s a coping mechanism we rely on to get through this human experience. Because if we believe we’re meant for something extraordinary, we bounce back from setbacks faster. We have something to look forward to. It’s like this feeling of being special is a survival instinct we’ve evolved with. It tells us we’re meant for more, so we have the fuel to keep going.

Being special meant something specific to me when I was younger. It meant that my life was full of adventure, that all eyes were on me, and that I’d show them. It was driven by a need to impress, which is why everything I did had to be on display. Because if it wasn’t, then how could I measure my success? And until the day comes that I’m actually content with never sharing my life on an app or getting lots of likes on a selfie doesn’t immediately fill me with serotonin, I can’t pretend I don’t still want to be special in that specific way that traps us all. I still think the universe owes me a prize. 

But the truth is, there isn’t a prize or milestone that sets you apart from everyone else. We think there is because we put celebrities on pedestals and treat them like gods. Surely, they’ve touched what it means to be special — they figured it out. If that’s the case, why do we see famous actors longing for private and simple intimate moments with their loved ones as soon as the allure of fame passes? Why do we see people launch the project of their dreams and feel empty after? It’s because no amount of success is ever enough.

I spent so much of my youth obsessed with this idea that one day I would do something remarkable, but I never took a second to think about what my definition of that was. If I limited it to being rich or famous, it seemed shallow. But if I limited it to leading a simple life, it seemed dishonest. Now I realize you can find a sweet spot that satisfies aspects of both of those seemingly opposite desires.

At 28 (and I’m sure this will keep evolving), my idea of success is finding balance in work, relationships and self-care. It’s working a job that challenges you creatively but also gives you the freedom to focus on other things outside of it. It’s achieving flexibility in your work life and finding time for the things you care about. It’s putting your foot down when your time is being taken advantage of. With this extra time, it’s filling your heart with authentic interactions and creativity. Would it be cool if thousands of people loved and shared your work? Sure. But that will never come close to the feeling of making something because your soul is bursting to or getting lost in a conversation with a dear friend. Why do you think so many actors love working but hate press tours? It’s not the “success” that keeps them in love with what they do.

Success is spending time with the people you love, paying attention to life’s simple moments that are calling you to be awake and present. It’s being in tune with everything all at once. It’s sharing and receiving love in all of the ways that it manifests. If this leads you down a path of our society’s traditional definition of success, fantastic. But if instead, you find yourself dancing with the spontaneous rhythm of the universe in that sweet spot where we all connect, you’ve already found your prize.

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