Years ago, I was working at a tiny gas station in my home town when a former high school classmate waltzed in, Nick Lukosavich, and was taken back with surprise at seeing my face behind the counter. "Wow, you were so smart! We all thought you would be a scientist or something!" At the time, it felt to me like a partial insult. Instead of exploring the depths of space and biology, I was counting lottery tickets and replenishing beer in a walk-in cooler. This was far from the life I envisioned upon graduating at 18 with honors.
It made me think for a long time, have I squandered away my life and chosen the wrong trail through the woods? My latest move to the West Coast ended with uncertainty and a whimper. It was my own decision to return to Ohio. I had some chances to try to stick it out in California, but I decided that at this time, the wisest decision was to return home, regroup, and make another attempt at moving in the near future. Still, it smelled like failure. Yet another blow to the already bruised and battered ego.
Then, I look at the classmates who have done things with their lives. The actor who starred in independent film and theatrical productions in Europe. The Google employee with a wife and child who seems quite happy with his travels and how his life has gone. The stock broker in the Windy City. The producer at a well-known gaming channel in Los Angeles. They each represent the societal view of success. Security and stability. Each blasted out of Ohio's orbit to write their name in the heavens. And here I sit... a college drop-out back in northeast Ohio scraping by to survive and licking my wounds in seclusion digging through the past and learning about long-dead people who lived fascinating lives. Forbes Magazine won't be writing about my existence any time soon.
But therein lies the trouble with us homo sapiens. We measure our lives against the lives of others. Grey matter is only truly expanded in institutions of higher learning. Who we are is determined by how we measure up to other people. We view our lives in the shadow of other people, sometimes living vicariously through those who have become great. It's all about the here and now, the status quo. What good are achievements if the present is far from an ideal circumstance?
Some people measure success in dollars and cents; the house you own, the car you drive, and where you work mark how far you've come in life and where your rank is among the general population. But should we really see these things as the be all and end all of our whole life? In truth, "success" can be decided by asking just two questions. 1) Have you lived life and not merely existed? 2) Are you happy with how your life has been?
I do not own a Porsche or live in the lap of luxury. Some days are more difficult than others and the future is far from certain. Yet I've seen London and Paris. I'm a publisher author. I stepped out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions to leave my uneventful mundane life and risk it all in the name of adventure. Within one year, I have stood on the shore of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and breathed in the salty fresh sea spray. I've followed by heart when my head screamed that it was illogical and foolhardy. I have lived.
The next time you feel you're a failure in your life or that things aren't as good as others have it, pause for a moment and reflect on the path you've taken. Some people never step outside of their small town and never know what world awaits beyond those invisible stone walls of fear we place around us. If you have, pat yourself on the back. Don't look at your pocketbook to measure the wealth of your experiences. Look to the photographs and memories of your past. And if you haven't found the happiness you desire, there is always time to change how you live. The true key to happiness is following your own rhythm within. Find the drum beat and march forth.