Imagine a crib with a mobile of tennis balls overlooking a baby with ping-pong paddles taped to his wrists so he can try to swat at them. This baby was Andre Agassi. His father worked him so hard since an early age and he became one of the best tennis players of all time as a result.
The first time Agassi won the Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, he called his dad to tell him the news to which he responded “You had no business losing that fourth set”.
Andre Agassi worked his butt off to become one of the most successful tennis players, but he hated it. The only reason he ended up in tennis was because his father pushed him to do so. He confessed in his autobiography, Open, “I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have.”
I saw similar parenting methods to Agassi’s father in Korean culture, which is where I’m from. Tiger moms were a real thing. Children were pushed to strive towards a certain path the parents already had in mind for them, which usually was to become a doctor or a lawyer. Much of their leisure time had to be spent studying so one day they could get a prestigious job and make a lot of money so their parents could brag to others about how great their kids were.
This cultural standard indirectly influenced my life and defined for me my beliefs of what success looked like. I developed the common belief that success meant getting good grades, getting into a good school and getting a good job to make good money.
I managed to get into pharmacy school and ended up getting a six-figure salary right out of graduation because I thought it was the right thing to do.
I hoped everything in my life would come together now at this point, but it didn’t. I had the good salary, the nice car, and the nice apartment, but I found myself spending each day wondering, “Is this it? Is this really what the American Dream is suppose to feel like?” Every morning, another ounce of sadness would pile up in my soul. I became depressed and felt lost.
I was considered successful by common standards, but the big problem was I didn’t feel successful.
I was at the crossroads where my story just stopped. I fell into a routine where I created a life that was predictable, yet comfortable enough for me to be ok with not growing. It was good, but not great. I settled and convinced myself I reached the ceiling of my life journey and I just needed to grind it out until retirement to do all the fun stuff.
On my three-year anniversary at my job, I couldn’t take it anymore so I quit. I spent two months on a cross-country road trip with my wife and moved to LA to pursue becoming a filmmaker and worked for Jubilee Project for free while living off of our savings. I wish I could say this was the huge turning point in my life, but it still wasn’t what I was hoping for it to be. Even though I had many amazing opportunities in LA, I still wasn’t feeling successful.
It took me more than half my life to consider maybe my definition of success was wrong to begin with.
The issue was I let others set the standards for me. This explained why no matter what I accomplished, I never felt good about it. It was never my own goals I was trying to achieve. It was someone else’s. I was chasing something other people persuaded me I should care about, which was fame and money.
So one day, I realized what I was doing with my life wasn’t what I wanted, so I took a moment to reflect on what kind of work I resonated most with. I knew God crafted me with a heart that always gravitated towards the following:
- Using critical thinking to solve problems
- Empowering others to activate their talent and potential
- Being a part of a talented group to develop innovative creations and processes
I decided to make these three things my new success measures.
In LA, I was back working as a pharmacist, which was a job I didn’t love because it didn’t involve these activities as much as I would’ve liked, but it paid the bills. I also knew I wanted to change my career and invest in coaching and speaking full-time, but the reality was I had a family to support so I still needed more time and funds before I made the full transition.
So the next question I asked myself was, were there any positions in my line of work where I could be involved with the type of activities I enjoyed doing the most?
For me, I realized it always involved being in a place of leadership. I’ve led teams on humanitarian projects around the world fighting against social injustice in some of the most violent and poor places in the world. I also led some high profile film productions with Jubilee Project and always enjoyed being involved with the work it entailed.
With all of this in mind, I applied to a pharmacy supervisor position. I had absolutely no experience in pharmacy leadership, but by clearly communicating my why along with sharing my outside leadership experiences, I still managed to get the job over other more experienced candidates. This was a two level promotion to pharmacy supervisor from staff pharmacist all within 12 months from when I first was permanently hired. On top of that, my writing I’ve been doing on the side started getting noticed and building a little traction, which was great for building my business.
I felt these little bursts of success because now I’ve positioned myself to do more of the type of work that matters to me while figuring out how to make my next big transition.
I no longer suffered from this Success Paradox where I never felt successful no matter how much I achieved. I began enjoying my work and being more engaged with both my day job and my own business. My mood began to improve and I grew a much bigger sense of fulfillment.
Success can be much closer than you think when you stop letting others define it for you.
God never gave me a formula on what decisions to make in my life in order to become successful and I think he intentionally does this. He gave me the authority to be a steward of my own life and it’s my choice if I want to take the ownership and dig deep into my heart to see what He has placed there. Once I did this, I knew what made me come alive. I finally started feeling successful rather than chasing after success. The biggest success was when I stopped giving into worldly standards and started connecting intimately with my authentic self the way God created me.
Maybe you aren’t feeling as successful yet in your life because like me, you’ve chased what other people consider success. If you take a moment and uncover what type of things God has placed in the deepest part of your heart, what would your new success measures be?