There are many quantitative and qualitative aspects of one’s life that are used to measure success.
The size of one’s house. The brand of car one drives. The kind of clothes one wears. The job one has. The beauty of one’s partner.
These are similar to the success markers that humanity has been using for more than a century.
The lord with a castle is successful, while the peasant working the land is not. So on and so forth.
But perhaps the one success marker that makes the least amount of success to me is tenure.
Tenure is something that a lot of people aim for, especially in regard to a career.
Gotta climb the totem pole. Gain rank. Claim seniority. Feel better than others when you’re higher up the chain.
Of course, tenure brings about some benefits when you have a traditional career: more money, extra vacation time, flexibility at the office, authority, etc.
But these career benefits mask the truth: tenure is just another golden handcuff, designed to keep you chained to the grind, whether you like it or not.
Tenure is good only for as long as you keep striving toward it.
It’s like a hamster spinning in his wheel, aiming for more speed, not realizing that the increased speed achieved is only good for as long as the hamster keeps running faster. Becoming exhausted at some point, the hamster stops running. And all that prior increased speed achieved is lost. Much like the tenure that was once achieved in a career that is given up when one moves on or finally retires in old age, exhausted.
The really crazy thing about tenure, though, is that it’s not tied to happiness. It’s only tied to a transient measure of success that society uses, right or wrong.
As such, people fight for tenure across many different aspects of their life, happiness be damned.
I see this a lot in relationships. There’s this belief in society that a partnership with someone is only successful if it lasts a lifetime. And so when a relationship doesn’t last until death, it’s peculiarly deemed a failure for some reason.
But how long you’re with someone has nothing to do with how happy you are with that person.
For instance, if a crowd of people hear that a couple has been together for 30 years, applause will usually shortly follow. But you’ll pretty much never hear anyone in the crowd ask: “Are you two happy?”
It’s a natural assumption that because someone has been doing something for a long time, or with someone for a long time, they’re happy doing so. But this isn’t necessarily so. Just because you’ve been working at a job for 20 years, that doesn’t mean you’re terribly pleased. And just because you’ve been married for 20 years, that doesn’t mean you’re happy. If anything, it’s sometimes this striving toward tenure that detracts from our own fulfillment. Yet life can simultaneously make it difficult to leave uncomfortable situations. At the same time, there’s a certain comfort to be had in the status quo.
And that’s a weird thing about tenure and society’s admiration of it. It’s often easier to keep doing that which you’ve been doing. The status quo is the easy way out. It’s far more difficult to take the road less traveled, to blaze a new trail, to tackle a new challenge.
Now, I believe that being in a relationship can work a lot like the compounding of money. A great partnership can make two people more than the sum of the parts. Love can make you better, happier, and more.
At the same time, love works a lot like money on the opposite end of the spectrum. A bad relationship can make you worse, miserable, and less. Like debt, it can compound the opposite way if you don’t find a way to get rid of it.
And so I’ve built a new measure of success in my own life: happiness.
The one question I ask myself before taking on any venture is: “Will this likely make me happier?”
The one question I ask myself before remaining in any venture is: “Will this continue to make me happy?”
I don’t ask myself how long I might be able to do it, or how much money it might make me, or what people might think of it.
And I certainly don’t continue doing something just because I’ve been doing it for a certain amount of time.
If it doesn’t continue to add value and happiness to my life (and, when possible, the world around me), I cease to see viability in continuing.
The issue with happiness, though, is that it’s not quantifiable in a way that time (or money) is. Someone can’t say I’ve built up 20 units of happiness with something, but someone can talk about 20 years with a company. And it’s perhaps a low hurdle rate for quality of conversation and connections that leans society toward generally preferring easy, quantifiable measures that can neatly be placed in a box and labeled.
Moreover, people need reassurance. People want acceptance. They want to fit in. And tenure is an easy currency in that world, whereas personal happiness (qualified only by a person’s unique assessment of their own situation) is not. Tenure is relatable, although not necessarily useful. Happiness is arguably less relatable.
But how does tenure make us better or happier? How does doing something for a long time add value to one’s life? Why is the status quo – easier than the alternative – admirable?
In my view, the only measure of success in life is happiness. Through profound and lasting personal happiness, one is able to add tremendous value to their world and the world around them. It’s striving toward one’s potential, not toward tenure, that makes one happy.
And that’s what financial freedom is all about. Being freed from financial concerns allows one to shed societal success markers that don’t necessarily make one happier, better, or more valuable to society as a whole.
Building customized measures of success that are in tune with who you are as a person is just one benefit of the holistic lifestyle designed to achieve and keep financial freedom.
So I can’t go to a party and tell people I’ve been in the auto industry for more than 10 years. I retired from the gig three years ago, at age 32. And as I gear up to start a new career in the fitness industry, my tenure – at least initially – will be nil.
However, I’ve been writing since 2011. So I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do this for a while now. But I only continue to write because it still makes me happy. If ever a day comes when I no longer enjoy writing, I’ll stop. The same could be said for all aspects of my life. Everything is designed to add happiness and value, not tenure and money. And that, in my opinion, is the only way life should be lived.
What do you think? Is happiness a better measure for success than tenure?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.