An Alternative Means to Measuring Success
Paul Millerd shares an insightful perspective on how he makes sense of his path without the traditional measures of corporate success.
I received the following question from a reader of my internet thoughts and thought it might be worth re-posting my answer here:
Question: “I understand navigating our own path, but I think people need to aspire to things to contextualize their journey. People especially love rituals and rites of passage. To this end, have you heard of any ideas or suggestions you like for alternative fixed points?
This is a great question because I think it’s a struggle for many on unconventional paths. When you take a path that doesn’t fit in the narrow range of options people see as “normal,” a natural tension shows up in your life. Early on in my journey, I was surprised and shocked at this feeling. My first impulse was to make it go away but having recently run away from a structured path, I sensed that I should lean into the unknown. This is really hard, however, and the pressure to do things to make yourself legible to others can nudge people to adopt goals, labels, and pursuits that are not inherently their own (see: hustle traps).
You mention alternative “fixed points.” This is an idea from Venkatesh Rao’s Art of Gig newsletter (now sunset, but I believe his book is coming soon??). He argues that if we don’t pick alternative goals, ones that align with our own unique interests and desires, we accept default path goals. As he says about the US:
…the standard fixed point of homeownership. As in, ‘no matter what happens in the future, I’ll be a homeowner.
When your own goals overlap with the most popular goals in your country this is a great thing! Yet for people on unconventional paths (especially those with more volatile incomes) these goals can be constraining. We need alternatives. The challenge is that if we try to replicate the common fixed points with similar ones we get stuck. What is the self-employed version of a promotion? A raise? A nice title?
A helpful shift can be to move away from the “having” mode (as in I am doing this for X outcome) to “being” mode goals. Three of my own from a previous essay:
Key points include:
- Celebrating going indie
- Symbols from past identities or lives
- Learning to disconnect from the approval of others
Read the full article, Q&A: How do contextualize your path when you have no promotions, raises, or clear metrics of success?, on LinkedIn.