It’s a new year. And with the start of a new year, I tend to reflect on life, the universe, and everything. As a 40-something-year-old, I’ve had some time (a few decades in fact) to consider life and what’s important to me. What success means. What happiness means. And I’ve come to some conclusions.
In this age of social media, I think happiness and success get blended and obscured by too many external messages (including societal expectations) telling us what to think. And so we don’t listen, or maybe can’t hear, our own interpretations on success and happiness. It seems we get too caught up in other opinions and too invested in what others have, say, and do.
I think it’s human nature to compare oneself to others, whether that other is in a magazine, a coworker, or even your bestie. I also think I’m fortunate that I didn’t grow up with social media. Vogue, Cosmo, even Teen Beat and the like were enough to cause teen angst in my younger years. I can’t imagine dealing with my insecure teens and twenties on top of having every TikToker or Instagrammer telling me how and what I need to be happy or successful. But now, as I approach another 40-something birthday, I can happily say I no longer give a fox.
Not that 40 was a magic number. There was no switch that flipped when I turned 40. I had more of a gradual realization as I moved further into my forties that I was finally secure in who I am. I understood what makes me happy and how I want to define success.
The beauty of being over 40 is that I finally grasped that I have nothing to prove. And prove to whom, I don’t know. The world maybe. But when I was under 40, I still felt like I had something to prove, to show that I was successful, that I was happy.
I think we all feel that way at times. We feel like we have to climb the career ladder, meet societal expectations of marriage and kids, get the home, the car, the corner office. Have the things that are the American ideals of success. And we feel like we have to do all these things in order to be happy.
Who is to say what equates success? Success for me will look quite different from yours. And yours will look quite different from the person next to you. And who should tell me or you or that other person what makes each of us happy? Happiness for me will not be the exact same as for you or for that other person over there. Because isn’t happiness completely subjective and internal?
So in my forties, I have stopped comparing myself, my success, my happiness to anyone else. I define what success means to me. I set out what happiness is for me.
That doesn’t mean I don’t strive to do more or improve myself. I do. I constantly look for new things to learn. I seek new adventures and experiences. And I spend time in introspection, considering how I can continue to grow to be the best version of myself.
This means I may consider what others are doing and consider if it’s something I want to expend time and energy on. Not to compete with them or to be better than them. But to add to my own life. I ask myself will that experience or thing or accomplishment add value to my life? Will it give me a sense of success? Will it lead to my happiness?
Sometimes that answer is yes. And then I work to achieve whatever it is because I feel that will contribute to my life, my self value. But I don’t do it just because of some external standard or just because someone else has done it.
So this new year, as I turn another 40-something this month, I can say that I am happy with who I am, where I am, and the success I have achieved against my own standard.
And I look forward to what comes next.
Happy New Year.