(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)

Marketing – including all facets of advertising and most of public relations – is built around the idea of “aspiration.” Products should be presented as being the most wonderful, assuring the audience that the only thing holding them back from enjoying every day to its fullest is that they haven’t to date, been buying the right brand of toothpaste. Or that they need to treat themselves and indulge in that California vacation they only just thought of taking. Their life will change after eating that kind of yogurt.

Along the same lines, media and its adjacent advertising are part of what we use as our internal and external measures for success. The images we see on TV and in print as children, combined with the impact of our family and general environment, build in our minds a model of what “success” should look like. But they rarely give us the tools or directions on how to achieve it.

That means my vision and definition of success is the product of ‘80s television along with the working class upbringing of my family.

As I wrote about previously, my career goals aren’t massive. I just want to be able to provide for my family in a comfortable manner and hopefully do something fulfilling along the way. But that doesn’t mean that’s the same as the vision of success I’ve carried around with me for 40 years.

If I go back to what I thought when I was a child, I thought “success” meant escaping your circumstances. I was resigned at an early age to the idea that I would spend 40+ years behind a desk pushing paper around and rearranging numbers for a company that was more or less loyal to me and would repay my hard work and dedication with continued employment and then a nice dinner when I announced my retirement. That’s what I had seen modeled for me not only in my own house but for the most part those of my friends as well. You had a pension, mortgage, spouse and kids and commuted downtown to a job that provided for all that. If you treated your employer with respect, it would do likewise.

Then things started shifting. 401ks replaced pensions and companies that had been around for decades started going under. That model I had in my head wasn’t in place anymore.

Despite my grudging admission that life didn’t have much in store for me beyond wearing a tie and working in a beige cubicle (someday I might have an office!), I felt the pull toward creativity. I acted a bit, I sang in school choirs and wrote as much as I could whenever I could. If success was going to be, for me, breaking out of my prescribed lane then writing is how that would happen.

Which means regardless of how my employment situation might stand right now, I am kind of successful. I get to write for a living and am accumulating freelance positions that allow me to do more and in different ways. That’s kind of odd to say out loud when you’re always looking to see who’s paid you and who hasn’t and trying to fit in a part-time retail job on the side. I certainly don’t *feel* successful right now. But if I look at what I aspired to do I’m at least on the path to that goal. And the reality is I’m still (relatively) young, so there’s a long runway ahead of me to keep moving toward it.