At the tender age of 10, I stood up in front of my small-town church family and recited the 4 paragraphs of my Easter speech. In keeping with the yearly tradition, each child would attempt to demonstrate that he or she could memorize the most words out of Mrs. Mercer’s “Easter Book”, dazzling the adults and making our parents proud. My dad, serving as my very own personal cheerleader and staunch academic trainer, cheered me on every week-day after school as I recited, stumbled, recovered, and recited some more. By the time I stood up in front of our 1,000 or so members, I knew that I had the longest, and more importantly, most flawlessly memorized speech in the room. As I finished, I looked over at my dad in the deacon’s corner. The look of satisfaction on his face was my most coveted prize.
As I got older, my interests shifted to what by all accounts appeared to be a bright future. Minus the usual parental drama, fueled by mid-life crises and career stress, mines was a fairly normal teenage existence. I had a car, great grades, participated in band, BETA club, and had a part-time job to boot. Once the end of senior year rolled around, I had amassed thousands in scholarships and multiple admissions to really great colleges and universities. My mom, as was her borderline OCD way, had meticulously copied, faxed, and mailed all necessary documents and transcripts to the schools. On graduation day, she was rewarded for her diligence with the presentation of her daughter as the single most awarded scholar in our small town high school. I could not see her from the stands, but the tears in her eyes after graduation made my heart swell. She was over-the-moon proud, and for this, I was ecstatic.
Somewhere along the way, 10 years into a successful career, something “got lost”, as my mom would say. By that I mean, my motivations became less and less clearly defined. The “why” and the “how” for my professional pursuits were no longer entirely clear. I had made more money than I thought was possible for a little girl from rural America, (not that the amount was super high given my modest goals), but still, I could not quite capture sufficient motivation to continue on the path that I was on. I had married the love of my life and we had a wonderful bouncing, baby boy. The realization that my professional path had to change overwhelmed me directly after his birth. No longer content to follow the beaten path, I began to put serious thought into my next steps. My thought process went something like this:
What do I want? A great house in an awesome neighborhood.
What does that mean? A mortgage and a full-time job.
Why is this important? Because we have a family.
Will this make you happy? Probably not.
Queue *Record scratch*
As I contemplated my motivation to transform my life, I realized that I had to let go of what others, mom and dad included, expected of me. I needed to define what success looked like for me personally. At that time in my life, success meant being able to take my son to the park in the middle of the day. I knew that I wanted to work, but I also knew that a stressful job that required long hours and often weekends, was not the way to achieve my goal. I knew that while the work that I did was lucrative, I did not jump out the bed ready to conquer the next process map or requirements definition session most mornings. My break-through came when I started to question societal definitions of success. No longer was the house in the suburbs, complemented by a trip up the corporate ladder the right path for me. I needed fluidity. I needed less restriction. I needed freedom.
Each individual must define success for themselves. While early on in life it is perfectly reasonable, even laudable, to get direction and motivation from our loved ones, external affirmations that we are going down the right path will not sustain us. Each person must not only ask themselves, “what does my perfect life look like?”, but be courageous enough to pursue their vision with the purpose that will be required to go against the grain. It is not easy, but nothing worth having is. Define your motivation, travel light, and move forward with purpose.