When I was about to finish my studies there was one question that preoccupied my friends and I: What’s next?

The options to consider were clear (or so it seemed): Investment Banking, Think Tank, Advertising or…..staying in academia. I have to admit I slightly shudder when thinking back at some of the conversations we had at the time on the topic of which career to choose. In our defence, these were the options successful people seemed to pursue. And successful is what all of us wanted to be.

It would be a gross overstatement to say that I carefully considered my options and chose the most appropriate path … instead I picked what interested me the most (advertising) trusting that somehow it would lead to a good career and prosperous life. What that life or indeed this career should actually look like didn’t cross my mind.

Success was roughly defined by rising through the ranks, making an impact and earning a good and steadily increasing salary (not necessarily in that order). Opinions were divided amongst my friends in regards to two points:

  • What exactly made a good salary?
  • What should this impact look like?

For some of us impact was much more important than salary. This was the case for those who have since left a mark on the world stage by, for example, pursuing a political career. A good salary in this context was what was enough to feed the loved ones.

To a second division of friends, impact was achieved through money – so maximising earnings in a short amount of time was the ultimate goal. For that to be achieved, people would choose high pressure careers anticipating that they would have achieved their monetary goal in the next 10 – 15 years ready for early retirement.

These two poles were most certainly a sign of the times. They also demonstrate, however, that success had a rather narrow definition for us. Unfortunately, that still seems to be the case across our cultural hemisphere. All too often it needs quite a rude  wake-up call for us to re-evaluate what matters.

Sadly some of our friends never made it to early retirement. Others ended up with serious health issues due to the pressure they subjected themselves to on a daily basis. Yet others are still struggling to make ends meet, as they decided to opt for impact over money.

Looking at life and defining success in this straight lined, narrow way seemingly makes it pretty clear who is on the “winning” and who on the “loosing” side. It also has people living their lives blindfolded and driven by what others determine to be important or successful.

I have had the great fortune to meet some amazing people in my time. Success is what happened to them as they pursued with passion what they believed in. And in the end it redefined for each and every one of them what success actually meant. It is not a means to an end or the end itself. It is not career progression, money or power. It is not defined by others.

Success is deeply personal, born from happiness and passion. Not matter whether this is regarding our careers or our personal lives. Take-off your blindfold. Decide for yourself what success looks like. And follow your passion with all your heart.