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Are You Successful?

Last week, I was leading a workshop with a group of high school students. At the end of the event, one of the students asked me:

“Nihar, do you consider yourself successful?”

Usually, I am able to answer questions I receive without much thought. This time, however, I had to take a minute to reflect.

After some contemplation, I responded: “Yes, now I would say that I’m successful. If you asked me eight months ago, though, I probably would have said no.”

I believe being successful equates to being able to accomplish what you want to do, not what other people want you to do. It means being able to live life by your own terms.

Most of you know that I studied economics in college. Well, upon graduation, most of the students in my program typically go on to become distinguished bankers or consultants in the world of business. Thinking this was the expectation that I had to live up to, I also followed their same established path into consulting (put simply, I helped businesses solve the problems they faced).

It became clear within six months that this occupation was not for me. Yet, because of what people around me said, I felt like I had to stay. Some of them told me I could not leave my first job for at least two years because “nobody ever did that.” Others questioned why I would want to leave such a prestigious job. I ignored my own terms and instead submitted to the terms of people around me.

I stayed in this occupation for a year and a half, even though I knew it was not for me. What ultimately made me act upon my desire to try something else was talking with many of my friends and forming my own view of success that I had not considered before.

Personally, I believe being able to live on your own terms is much harder than it seems, especially given the conventional definitions of success today. I have some friends who make $30,000 per year, are married with a family, and coach local town sports. Most people would not consider them highly successful. Yet, these friends are happy, and they consider themselves extremely prosperous. Why? Because they have accomplished everything they wanted to.

Meanwhile, I have friends on the complete opposite end of the spectrum who have started large companies and make millions of dollars per year. Yet, they still complain to me about how unhappy they are and how they wish they had the extra time to volunteer at community events. Nothing is stopping them from volunteering at these community events.

You control your own decisions. This is why I feel like I only became successful eight months ago; I now completely live life on my own terms.

Recently, I was asked by a Hollywood producer if I wanted to take on a new writing project in Brazil. He offered to pay for all my travel expenses and host me at a resort for several months, in addition to paying me quite well for my writing work. Normally, I would have taken up such a glamorous offer without hesitation.

However, the story was not what I was interested in writing. Instead, I had the desire to write about Chumbana, an inspiring 13-year old girl skater in Kenya. So I turned down the Hollywood producer and went to Africa instead. Some people thought I was crazy – but now I’m writing what I want to, even though it is not endorsed by a Hollywood producer. And I undoubtedly consider that being successful. What is your definition of success?


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