Redefining my idea of success as a 20 something woman

Illustrator unknown

Illustrator unknown

Until very recently, I have always believed in the cookie cutter idea of success that society, along with my parents and the other adults who participated to my education taught me. According to them, one is supposed to have a perfect education in order to get a job in a respectful, powerful company that, through engaging missions and many perks, will provide you with a happy and fulfilling professional future. So as many before me did, I followed suit and worked hard on becoming a perfect prototype of this model while shrugging off my inner self who was so desperately trying to express herself. I compelled myself to believe that to follow that path was the best way for me to live my life and that once my school years would be over, everything would be alright and I’ll finally be able to enjoy a proper salary - which, in my mind was the ultimate goal. At that moment, and without even knowing it, I started suffocating.

So here I was, Master’s degree in the pocket, a two years internship in a worldwide successful company and cherry on top : a few job offers. What more could I ask for right? I finally had what I had worked so hard on, what I crushed my true yet unknown desires for, in order to shape myself into the perfect mockup that fitted the foisted vision of what success is supposed to be. But something didn’t quite feel right. And if you can avoid thinking about something for a long time, when your brain decides that it’s time for you to deal with it, there is no more escaping.

Here‘s the dilemma: say yes to a job that would give me great financial stability, together with the professional recognition that allegedly goes with it (but feel depressed and dead inside), or say no, regain a form of mental freedom but be even more scared about the future. Because that’s something I’ve been taught as well : not having a proper corporate job means that you’ve basically failed - which makes the decision making process even harder. Still, a decision was needed and despite all the perks that a job can offer, I mostly had to consider how depressed I felt when going to work, sitting at my desk, doing my work everyday. That never ending cycle made me miserable, and if that’s something my brain had understood for a long time, my mind only accepted it then.

I have been corporate job free for over seven months now. And if I am now starting to feel the perks of it, it wasn’t that easy at first.

“What do you do?”. That’s probably the second question people ask when they first meet you. Work is, in our societies, strongly linked to identity : tell me what you do and I’ll tell you who you are. It was one of the biggest hurdle I had to overcome. When you’ve noticed that a whole system you’ve thought you were thriving in isn’t in fact quite adapted to your personality, who are you supposed to be now? As hard as going through this stirring phase can be, I found it to be a place for growth and self discovery. A friend once told me that growing up, instead of asking him “what do you want to do when you’ll be a grown up”,  his mother would ask him “how do you want to live”, which to me, makes a thousand times more sense than the first, more popular yet frustrating question. Or “who do you want to be”, that would work as well. And I wish that was something I would have asked myself before I felt completely trapped into a system that mainly sell gaining money as the ultimate goal. Be miserable at work but at least make tones of money right? While blindly believing in that concept comes easy, the struggle that trying to find other meanings to your career is, comes as a tough reminder of how bad you’ve lost your way.

It is a lot to cope with : as a twenty something person, there are a lot of questions that you want to find answers to and adding your professional purpose on top of that is the straw that broke the camel's back. Hence the quarter life crisis that plenty of young people go through and which is, in my opinion, not talked about enough.

In order to feel better I had to deconstruct a lot of the injunctions that had been in my mind for a long, long time. And it’s still a work in progress. The first one is that, unlike what I used to believe, I don’t need any corporate career to feel complete in a job - social recognition is bullshit. Second is that I shouldn’t choose a career or a job for based on money and salary. Lastly, I need to do whatever the f*ck I want without taking anyone’s opinion in consideration. I am convinced that beyond the fact that working is a necessity in our capitalist society, it can also be a way to thrive. I think of success as a personal thing going hand in hand with a personal vision, itself linked to personal needs. There is no unique vision of success even if society often tries to make us think otherwise. Though it takes my mind time to really integrate that, I try to detach myself from these preconceived ideas that for so long, have kept me from asking myself the right questions.

by Jessica Ayinda