When I first moved to New York in 2004 I was so full of ambition - I wanted to make a success of myself. If I could make it in New York, I'd finally have proven to myself that I was capable of all those things I wanted to be. But "making it" always eluded me. When I reached what I was grasping for, I'd discover something just further just out of reach. The 70 hour work weeks soon meant that time was flying by. Before I knew it Thanksgivings and Christmases had come and gone and my circle of friends was getting smaller and smaller. I rarely read anymore and my idea of a good way to spend a Saturday was just to get some sleep.
"Making it" in the business world remained elusive - the definitions kept changing. Years earlier, making it would have meant being a manager in Manhattan. But when I got that promotion, all I saw was the next one - making partner would mean that I made it. But it turns out there are levels of partnership too. There never would be a moment to truly celebrate. When I made more money, my expenses just went up. I needed the next raise. There wasn't any wealth up there - just relative degrees of poverty.
When I'd had enough of it - I got engaged, quit my job and announced my intentions to take a roadtrip around the United States for a few months. Coworkers advised me against it, managers said I'd be "taking a step backwards for my career". As the road trip approached, I started to panic. Had the long hours and the insomnia gotten to me? Had I lost my mind by quitting everything I had worked for in New York so that I could drive around the country with the girl I loved, listening to Springsteen and Dylan while we looked at a map figuring out the next place to crash?
We're not all Steve Jobs. We're not necessarily going to find our passion or our fulfilment in what we do for a living. I really wish I'd known that earlier in my life. The idea of finding meaning in our work is a relatively new idea - for centuries work was just a necessary evil.
But something inside of me clicked on the road trip (this is after all what we design our road trips to do). Maybe for some people, work is just the thing that you do that allows you to really do the things you want to do - to spend time with your partner, to travel, to raise a family. When the road trip is over and your routine returns it's not a simple lesson to apply. It's a continuous effort to not repeat that mistake and it was one I had to correct when a few years later I found myself working too many hours, not being there for my wife and taking myself far too seriously.
Being a success is not necessarily about your career. Success can be defined as being a good husband, a good father. It doesn't have to mean six figure salaries, job titles and long working hours. In fact, very often - it's just the opposite.