How Changing My Definition of Success Tranformed My Life

Being a college student, the most common question I get is “What are you studying to become?” Anyone that has followed me through my journey knows that this has always been up in the air. I started college with the vision of becoming a doctor, then I decided to chase my passion and love for nutrition as a registered dietitian, and now it’s changed again. I’ve fallen in love with the study of nutritional anthropology – how cultural and societal factors influence nutrition and human biology. This new opportunity has me leaning towards the thought of research, professorship, and writing. In each of these career paths, the way I defined success changed, most greatly in my transition from a doctor to a registered dietitian.

When we look around us, we are constantly being fed one image of success. Society tells us that success is making a lot of money, having a prestigious job title, and driving a nice sports car to a mansion where a beautiful spouse awaits you along with the two kids and your dog. High school students are told they need to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer, or CEO to be successful and happy. Even if they aren’t directly told that money equals happiness, they sure were fed that idea at one point or another. I know I was. Sitting at the computer my senior year of high school, I vividly remember taking a career test to see what my interests aligned with. When the results appeared, one of the first things I did was look to see how much money each job made. I did this before I even understood what the job was because I thought money equated to success. What’s shocking is that you can type any career into the Google search bar, and I guarantee you that the word “salary” will appear in the top 5 suggestions. We care about money.

When I decided to make the switch from being a doctor to a registered dietitian, everything began to change. I cut my potential annual salary from $200k+ to about $50k. People thought I was crazy. Friends and family kept asking me why I was wasting my potential. I was constantly told, “But, you’re so smart.” Ouch…

Truth is, I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me that people would frown when they found out what I was studying. I was happy. I had a fire inside of me that they obviously never had inside of them. They were caught up in society’s definition of success, and I was living out mine. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I stopped giving attention to what society was going to give me (money, glamour, prestige) and started focusing on what I could give it. To me, success is not about money or fame. It’s about making an impact. It’s about leaving my mark on the world each day without fail. It’s about doing what I find joy in. As naive as it may sound, I honestly believe that if I’m doing what I love, money won’t be a worry because there’s this weird thing called joy that happens when you do what you love. It takes precedence over everything else. There’s also this other weird thing that happens when you do what you love…you get really good at it because work doesn’t seem like work. You accomplish more, you get new ideas, and you get noticed. Getting noticed leads to promotions and more opportunities to make an impact on the world. It leads to success.

I can honestly say that I am happier now than I ever have been, and I’m just getting started. So, I challenge you to reconsider how you define success. It doesn’t have to be the same as mine, and it shouldn’t be. What’s important is that you strive to achieve it. A goal without action is just a dream.

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