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

I’ve written before about how I would define success to explain what my ambitions, at least as of this moment in 2017 and at this stage in my life, are. But today I’m going to ponder the question of what my success narrative is. To define the question a bit more clearly, what story am I telling myself about how I can or should be succeeding? It’s an interesting time that this question is coming up in my personal schedule because it’s something my own thinking has turned a corner on recently.

A couple weeks ago we were at an event at my son’s high school, waiting for him to reappear after things were wrapped up. As my wife, youngest son and I were standing around I saw a friend of mine from my own years in high school who lives in our area and whose daughter is about to become a freshman. We chatted for a few minutes (we’ve run into each other at previous events like this over the last couple years) and then her parents walked over, allowing me a chance to catch up with them. Inevitably the following question was asked of me:

“What are you up to these days?”

My mind raced briefly in a panic as to how to answer this simple, standard question. Finally, I said, “I’m a freelance writer these days, writing various things for clients.”

Not a bad answer, and one that actually represented a turning point. Most of the time before this I’d hemmed and hawed with some sort of answer about doing a little freelance writing and working a part time gig after I got laid off a year or whatever ago. It was a bad answer and not one that exactly exuded confidence and stability. And, quite frankly, it made everyone uncomfortable.

The thing is, that answer wasn’t really possible until very, very recently. I’ve been operating almost this entire time with the mindset of this being a temporary situation until I finally secure a full-time job. We just have to tough this out, we’ve been saying, and then everything will be fine again.

Now we’re very much in the headspace of being more or less at peace with this being the new normal. I am a freelance writer and content strategist who supplements that income with ~20 hours a week of part-time retail work. And that’s OK. That’s actually, at this point, what I want to be doing. Sure, I’d love to get two or three more regular projects/clients and have everyone pay me within 30 days without issue, and I’m still looking for full-time employment. But we’re fine and this is working for me and my family.


If I’m writing my success narrative today, it’s that. I’m comfortable with the direction my life and career are moving in and if this path continues then that will qualify as success for me.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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