Jeff Hittner is the founder of Your Project X, an organization dedicated to helping people (re)discover their purpose to build careers they’ll love. Previously, he founded IBM’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting practice globally. He is a partner to global organizations focused on entrepreneurship and youth development, the father to a one-year-old son, and was an elite gymnast for nearly 15 years.

“It’s perhaps easier now than ever before to make a good living. It’s perhaps harder than ever before to stay calm, to be free of career anxiety.” – Alain de Botton

There’s so much anxiety in the world of work today. Without even realizing it, we are exposed to a conveyor belt of messages about what the “successful life” is supposed to look like. Social media is the accelerator inducing our stress.

“Look at this guy’s Insta feed… Am I supposed to have traveled to my 100th country before turning 30?”

“Should I spend an extra 20 minutes getting ready so I can get an extra 100 likes?”

“What about her – she’s a millionaire before even starting her family – I need to do that!”

Where is the safe space to stop and think about the way we live and work – and question our assumptions? For our parents, it was usually in the communities they built their lives around – churches and synagogues, suburban neighborhood groups – but they’ve long since lost their appeal.

The good news is you’re not alone in feeling this way. So many of us feel the pressure – often self-induced – to figure it out, to “make it,” and to be successful. So many of us are searching for our purpose. So many of us don’t really know how to shift the story.

How we build our own definition of success

It’s time to question our choices and examine our existence. Here are 4 activities to give you traction in this pursuit:

  1. Your death at 90. For most of us, imagining our death is heavy, but envisioning the dream life we’ve led by writing our own obituary at 90 is a great way to gain some clarity around what’s important. Notice what you focus on when you write it – and what seems inconsequential from your “to do” list of today.
  2. Worst Idea Possible. Take whatever traditional success goal you are focused on and spend 5 minutes brainstorming the absolute worst ideas to rebut this notion. Bonus points if you can get several friends to join you. This exercise actively blocks out the barriers you have to new possibilities because we’re already framing them as crazy! For example, imagine you’re stuck on the idea of buying an apartment in the next year. What are the worst ideas of how you could spend this money instead? Live somewhere new every month for a year? Open up a tattoo parlor? Buy a palm tree for every one of your coworkers? Within these harebrained ideas are little clues about what you really value and love. This is the next step. We look at our ideas and consider what aspects of them can be tweaked to actually experiment with.
  3. The Network Audit. Go through your community of friends, colleagues and barely-remembered contacts. How similar and how different are most of them from you? Reach out to the ones that think and act very different from you. You could easily go through a couple hundred names and reach out to only a dozen that you know are going to have a perspective of their own. These are the ones that will spur your personal definitions of success.
  4. Teacher extraordinaire. If you weren’t afraid of rejection, what would you teach? We’re not talking about the mundane Salesforce relationship tool you’re an expert with, but rather what gives you energy when you talk about it. Fears of facilitation aside, how does the topic(s) that pop into your mind inform what you really value?

Tackle any of these activities and you’ll be taking the first steps to shift your mindset. Better yet, find someone you trust to hold you accountable to taking these steps. Let them know – in an email – that you’ll take on 2 of these steps each week and ask them to hold you to it. Life is too short to live someone else’s definition of success. It’s time to figure out how to live a life that’s authentic to who you are in this world. It’s time to get closer to your authentic vision of who you are in this world.

Jeff has two previous articles on IVY Magazine: