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How do you define success?

Dollar, Dollar bill y'all! Oh wait, those are just dollars...

Dollar, Dollar bill y’all! Oh wait, those are just dollars…

It’s no wonder that we as a society are such consumers and create such financial issues for ourselves all in an effort to keep up appearances that we have money and are successful. You can’t go anywhere without seeing ads showing what success looks like, and therefore what we need to strive for. The bigger question that we forget to ask ourselves is, “What does success mean to us and who are we trying to look successful for”?  It all seems to be relative though, driven mostly by how you define success. When you’re constantly looking forward striving for bigger and better and more, at what point do you declare yourself successful enough?

Then what measure do you use to determine “success”? Is it having enough free cash to do what you want with? Is it the “He who has the most toys wins” mentality? By those standards, I should keep the job I have now for many more years, and spend money like I have a good oil-field salary. Why can’t I have a boat? I love to spend time on the water, the kids are old enough to enjoy it now, and we can afford it. Check – we’re getting a boat! We should get some nicer cars too. Right now we can drive past people and they don’t realize the kind of coin we’re bringing home, not anymore. Check – we’re getting newer, fancier cars! Plus, we need something to pull the boat! Now that I have a boat, I don’t want to spend 1-1.5 hrs on the yard each week to save $25 and I like boating better, so we should get a yard guy. Check – we’re getting a yard guy! You know what, now that I think about it, I like eating out for lunch at the office. I’m tired of my home made sandwiches and chips and apple every day, day in, day out. Check – I’m eating out more! We also need to vacation more, because we don’t get a lot of down time to reflect on our “success”, so you know what, we’re taking more vacations!

Dude, now this is success!! I’ve got a nice boat, a better ride(s), no lawn worries, and I get to have someone else make lunches for me and they’re WAY tastier than my ol’ sandwich. Plus, I get to plan our next vacation for the end of the year and the ones for next year. Talk about living the good life! See, it’s pretty easy to measure success, just look at all our stuff. We have SO much stuff, we even have a storage unit now to hold our extra stuff. It reminds me of when Homer told Monty Burns he was the richest guy he knew, and Monty responded with, “Yes, but I’d trade it all for a little more.” :) So does more stuff equal “more success”?

What would it look like if I defined success by a different measure; a measure of time and freedom.

You're doing what?!

You’re doing what?!

If I tell someone that instead of pursuing all of that, I want to quit my 6 figure job, give up the boat, give up ever owning a fancy car (goodbye BMW dreams), eating out all the time, and give up a “big, fancy house”, so I can try to live off of $50k/yr they’d tell me I’m nuts.Heck, I told myself that before I got on board with this whole lifestyle change we’re striving for. Honestly though, after reviewing our spending this last year or two, I don’t see why we would need to live on more. Yes, more money could be more comfortable, but I’m already comfortable now. Yes, we could feel a little more secure having a paycheck show up each week, but I’m okay with withdrawing money as needed from our savings, as per the plan. You know what I will get more of though? Time and freedom.

I can’t BUY that right now. Let me rephrase that. Right now, I am currently buying future Mr. and Mrs. SSC time and freedom by forgoing the boat, the BMW, a bigger house, and bringing my own lunch to work each day. We still vacation enough for me, and after our lifestyle change, we’ll have more time to do more of that. So I can buy time, but it’s in the sacrifice of current convenience and luxury stuff now. But what about being successful, because I’ve worked my whole life to be a “success”!

Seriously, I don’t know how you could be more successful than by choosing to dictate your life how you want to live it. For me, I want to spend more time doing more family things, and to paraphrase the great Winnie the Pooh, I want to do more “Mr. SSC things.”

Fishing shouldn't only be done on vacations!

Fishing shouldn’t only be done on vacations!

Even more importantly, I want the freedom to do them when I want to do them. Not when they fall into an empty slot on my schedule and I also have the energy to do them. My current schedule has openings between 7pm and 11pm weekdays, weekends (sort of), and every other Friday (sort of). The sort of is a reminder that I still have “life things” to do like dentist appointments, car maintenance, house maintenance, errands, groceries, yard duties, and appointments for who knows what else, like haircuts, kids haircuts, kids dentists, kids birthday parties, dog things, and more. It’s amazing how easy it is to fill those days with things I’d rather not do in my “free time.”

In the end, it’s all about how you decide what success looks like to you. As the Grateful Dead put it, “sometimes we live no particular way but our own” and this rings true all over the PF blogosphere and life in general. We all have different ways we want to live our life, and we all have a plan in place to get to achieve those dreams. Some of us will get there sooner than others and some of us may never get there, although I hope we all get to where we want to be. But I guarantee that none of us will get there if we try to measure up to someone else’s definition of success.

What’s your definition of success? Do you have something you see as a success that others might think “wouldn’t count”?

24 thoughts on “How do you define success?

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Definitely. It seems like it’s easy to get caught up in it all and forget, stuff isn’t that important.

  1. Freedom40

    Great perspectives here. I recently came across your site (thanks to a comment you left over on mine) and I’m really liking what I see. Just need to now set aside some time this weekend so I can read through some past articles!

  2. Our Next Life

    I completely relate to all of this. Both my and the husband’s colleagues are all about comfort and convenience. Not status, exactly, but the idea of “I could have more free time if we had a maid, and a nanny, and a guy who takes care of things, and a bigger house, and a bigger car, and a bigger….” Some of it is downright shocking, actually, thinking about what people spend on things. I sometimes wonder if what they have leftover to actually spend on a discretionary basis is even worth how hard they work, because they’re giving themselves an effective salary of so very much less, with how much is committed to fixed expenses. They might as well earn less but have a much easier job!

    I’m a person who needs gold stars, so I definitely struggle a little bit with the question of how I’ll define myself when I’m no longer “important.” But I do think that most people, when we explain what we’re doing or what we’ve done once we actually retire, will see it as an accomplishment, and that’s a gold star all on its own.

    And you make another good point in favor of small town living: when we lived in the city, I’m sure most people would have thought we were crazy to say we didn’t need money or status or things, but in the small town where we live now, everyone gets it. We actually have to explain very little. We just say, “We’re saving up so we can quit working and have more time outside,” and everyone basically says, “Sweet!” No one yet has said we’re crazy or it’s not possible or we’ll get bored. :-)

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I agree with some convenience, but to a point. I could save an hr or so on the yard each week for 8 months a year if I hired someone, but I like doing it, and get kind of a Zen like experience from it – just turn the brain off, mow and weed eat.
      I like doing well at work and getting recognized for it, so like you I may struggle a bit when I no longer have work. However, like you mentioned in a recent post, I’m sure there re many organizations I could find and volunteer with and get them way better organized and more efficient, and spend time doing that. It would be its own kind of different challenging than my work now, but probably way more rewarding.

      I’m looking forward to being in a smaller town, for most of the reasons why you guys live there now. A bonus would be that we could find support for our lifestyle and friends to do things with. Like the 1500’s, we’ll probably go low key and stay under the radar and just let everyone think wild and crazy ideas about how we “make money” without jobs. :)

  3. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    AWESOME post, my friend. And we’re right there with you. Freedom and time are SO much more valuable than the stuff. We’ve been there, had the stuff. It’s really no big deal, and the “joy” that comes with it wears off fast, at which point you’re left searching for the next high, so to speak. Life is SO much better without that care.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Yeah, when I was just “clicking to buy now” I ended up with so much crap I didn’t use that just cluttered the house. Now I find myself donating those very items and I think to myself, what was the point in getting this again? Very short high that leads to a lot of buyers remorse. :)
      Unlike Mr. Burns, I’d trade it all for a little less, if it meant less maintenance, less time taking care of things, and less stress all around and more time to do whatever I wanted.

  4. Mark@BareBudgetGuy

    I’m about 12-18 months out from throwing away my 6 figure income, or at least putting it on hold, in pursuit of this exact thing. I keep telling me kids to stop growing up, but so far they aren’t listening.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Yeah, that’s a big decision to make. It’s only been 4 years with our oldest, but man it seems like it was yesterday we brought him home and then thought, “Now what?” :)
      I’ll be interested to read your adventures and how it shapes up for you when you make the transition.

  5. Steve @ Think Save Retire

    Nice article. I define success very simply: The ability to completely choose my life, each and every day. If I can do that while still working, that’s fine. But, I have found that I can’t, so the job really needs to go before I can consider myself truly successful. Money and things no longer have anything to do with my definition of success. Whether I have $200,000 or $2m to my name, if I can wake up every morning and feel like I’m in control of my life and time, then I will most definitely be successful.

    Damn successful.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Thanks, and that’s a great definition. I can’t fit that one until we hit our FFLC date, but I can manage and know the end game is close, in sight, and attainable. It’s been a paradigm shift in my brain that more stuff doesn’t equal bigger success. That and the “stuff doesn’t make me as happy as my own free time to myself to do what I want with it” idealogy are all but gone from my current thought process.
      Like you, when I hit that, I’ll also think, “Now this is success!”

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Exactly! Why didn’t someone let me know this years ago?! I mean more than a few years ago anyway.

      It’s amazing when you realize that freedom is attainable, how big of a shift you can see in your priorities and what’s worth it to spend on and what isn’t. I found a lot of stuff that wasn’t worth it anymore. Granted, I still probably spend money on things others wouldn’t consider worth it, but that’s why I’m not married to them, lol. :)

  6. Prudence Debtfree

    I subscribe to your definition of success, and I wish I had done so as early on as you and your wife did. Fortunately, it’s never too late to make a change for the better.I’ll be among those who “get there” later – but hey! I’ll get there : ) Great post.

    1. Mr. SSC

      Thanks! Hey, at least you’ll get there. I’m glad you have a picture of success defined for you. It makes it that much easier to work towards when you have the end defined. :)

  7. Jason

    For me, success will be when I can achieve some semblance of balance, but I maybe fooling myself. Sometimes I feel like I will never have balance between work, pleasure, and life. Part of it is because my job is a part of who I am. I mean technically the books I read, the stuff I listen to are part of my “job” or part of my research which is what I love to do, but i wonder what that will be like when/if we have kids? How do I define it then? I mean my dad defined it by raising three college educated children who all contribute to the world, are good citizens, and care about others. I think that is a great definition, but for me not enough. Maybe it is based upon life stage.

  8. Ditching The Grind

    I think we’ll be successful if we can set a good example for our kids to reach financial independence on their own.

    I’m right there with everything you said. As time goes by, I’m finding myself wanting less and less. I hate trying to squeeze the things we want to do into a few hours each evening and weekend. Freedom can’t come soon enough!

  9. Thias @It Pays Dividends

    I define success as accomplishing the goals I set out to achieve. Success doesn’t have anything to do with what I am able to afford. Instead I see it as setting a goal, no matter how big or small, and accomplishing it. For me, that is working towards achieving FI as that is our biggest goal, but it will also be hitting smaller goals along the way that build up to achieving our ultimate goal.

    1. Mrs SSC

      That is great you can decouple your definition of success and what other people think. As much as I try, I think I still worry about what other people think of my goals – I have been a perfectionist most of my life trying to please other people. But as I get older, I care less and less what others think… a few more years and I may be where you are!

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