Some people laugh when I tell them I grew up with a mom as a school principal and a dad as a cop. Maybe it’s because my life today as an entrepreneur and life adventure enthusiast clashes with my stereotypical middle-class upbringing. I grew up walking the straight and narrow, after all. I did everything I was ‘supposed to’ so that I would one day be… “successful.” I mean, isn’t “becoming successful” what we are all supposed to do with our life? I have yet to meet anybody who has a personal aspiration to become an “utter failure.”
The path for success was given to me by my parents, which was given to them by their parents, and so on. It’s comes across fairly formulaic, almost like a paint by numbers for life success. I call it a Life Script: a sequence of instructions that promise to lead to one’s ultimate happiness. And we’re taught to follow it.
Chances are you and I were taught the same Life Script. Let’s find out with a little fill-in-the-blank game.
You tell me: Were your answers similar to mine? (see Answer Key above) If so, then that means you a) knew the script and/or b) followed it. For most of us, it’s both (a) and (b).
It Worked Back Then
Whether we recognize it or not, this script inherently became our own internal voice of how we’re ‘supposed to’ live life – from birth forward. For example, we’re given specific milestones throughout childhood, and if we don’t reach them in time (walking, talking, reading, etc.), then we’re already labeled developmentally ‘behind.’
Society has taught us that later success means college graduation, a lucrative career, upward mobility, a happy family with 2.5 kids, and a mortgage.
And I initially bought into it all. I attended a top university. Received multiple degrees. Graduated with high honors. Study hard, worked hard. I was living the script to becoming an attorney because, well, that’s what I thought was ‘supposed to’ do.
But then at the age of 19, somebody asked me the following question:
Why? Why was I doing all of that?
The only answer I could come up with was, that’s what I thought I was “supposed to do.” And I didn’t like that answer.
And so I started asking myself, why am I doing all of this? Where did this script come from? If the whole world was operating off the same script for success, how did it originate? I did a deep-dive into research and found that it wasn’t always this way. This script evolved from the time when our great country was forged in the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century. It championed machines, factories and industry while putting in place social, economic and educational systems that powered it all.
In those times we focused on development. Production. Buildings and machines. Quantitative output. We celebrated the tangible measurements of success. We hailed the movers and the shakers who built America: Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison, and J.P Morgan.
We groomed our generations to follow this life formula because…it just made sense. And it worked!
The script: Study hard, find a great job. Work hard, reap the rewards. Work long enough, and comfortably retire with a pension. Success was seemingly simple because it was so spelled out—with a clear beginning, middle and end. And for the most part, older generations embraced it and then paid it forward.
The Big Wakeup Call
Fast forward to today. Having personally spoken in front of hundreds of thousands of business professionals all over the world, I’ve realized that we just don’t live in that time anymore. And while it doesn’t produce the success stories it once did, the script is still being taught..!
Just look at a few of today’s workforce and economic statistics, particularly pertaining to younger generations:
- Although educated with college degrees, millennials now make up about 40 percent of the unemployed in the United States
- Company benefit pension plans for retirement are fast becoming a thing of the past
- With the decline in support positions, fewer amenities and the increasing pressure to work evenings and weekends, we’re working harder for less
- Millennials are living with their relatives at the highest rate since the Great Depression
- Marriage rates for millennials are going down due to mounting debts and scarce job prospects
Although the economic, workplace and social landscape has changed, the script for life success has not. And it presents problems since most of us have an inherent drive to feel successful—to have that sense of accomplishment that we somehow added value to this world, made something of ourselves. I doubt anybody excitedly adds “failure” to their vision board.
We’re continually being taught that good grades and a good college diploma immediately guarantee a good job (and sometimes it does!), but then when we cannot find one, we feel we did something wrong. When we work hard for years and are loyal to a company, but we can’t afford to retire, we’re frustrated, let down. How often do you see pensions as part of company hire packages today?
When we follow the script, but we don’t reach the success it promises, we feel like a failure. Unhappy. Unfulfilled. Angry. Stuck or just completely lost. Sound familiar?
Going Off Script
As a young man who tasted entrepreneurial freedom for the first time, I realized that my metric of success wouldn’t come from living the script that was handed to me. I wanted to become an entrepreneur, not an attorney. Now what? Where was the script for that?
I had had no formal education about entrepreneurship (somehow high school pool lifeguard just didn’t cut it). Security, stability, money, marriage and children seemed to be a long way off. The adult figures in my life couldn’t relate to my ambitions and my need for creativity, adventure, rule-breaking and disrupting the status quo.
I did the math on how long I would have to continue down the path I was on to get to the life I envisioned for myself. The answer: Never. And so I came to the conclusion that I needed to stop doing what I was told I was supposed to do, and start doing what I felt I was meant to do. I needed to shift my script.
And it was only when I started on that path that I eventually found success – both the ups and downs of it. I’ve come to see success not as a destination but as a continuum of experiences. As an entrepreneur and investor for 18+ years, I’ve created very high-profile brands and also lost some. It was during low moments when I was tempted to return to the “supposed to script” of safety, of security. At age 19 when all my education prepared me to become an attorney, I went off script to start a home-based business (cue laughter from my family and friends at that time).
When my first startup business failed, I was tempted to walk away but instead invested more money and turned it around. When I had the opportunity to take my company public — which would have earned me $80 million — and the script told me to ring the bell and buy an island, I went off script to instead buy back my company. Ironically, it was those moments living off the script when I experienced the most success, the most personal fulfillment.
A lot of fellow millennials are shifting their script. It’s one of the reasons why there is a growing number of articles and studies about the tension between millennials and older generations—in work and in life. While some baby boomers and gen X’s complain that millennials are lazy, unproductive and self-obsessed, I’ve found that these perceptions are formed because the script was not followed.
I believe that millennials are rebelling in a society that doesn’t work; they don’t want what their parents or grandparents wanted. And so there are two groups: those who follow the script and don’t attain the success that script promises, and then those that rebel and face backlash for doing just that.
The consequences: unhappiness, anxiety, discontentment, depression, resentment, etc. I talk to these people all the time, and I just want to give them a big eraser and empower them to erase the script that was handed to them (the one that told them they were worthless if they didn’t follow it).
It’s why I’m so passionate about helping people shift their script, take some risks, and pursue their passions. Our old script fit the times of the past – we needed organized systems, processes and rules – but in order to feel successful and content today, I believe we need to live off the script. Maybe write a new one altogether.
Creating Happiness and Fulfillment
If we’re continually trying to follow a script that doesn’t work for us anymore, why not rewrite it? How much more inspiration, contentment and happiness can we experience if we just collectively agree to create new pathways and tangibles for what it means to be successful and value to this world.
A part of my personal and professional mission is to inspire a movement of people to commit to writing their own scripts – ones that celebrate individual strengths, build self-worth, focus on constantly learning and growing. In my opinion, although people generally value time, relationships and money, there is no one-size-fits-all script for success.
But it first begins with developing a framework (underlying concepts, values, practices) from which those scripts can be created. I’ve found a way to shift the script and reinvent new ways to define and experience not just success, but ultimate fulfillment. And I’m excited to show others how to do the same.
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And be sure to share this message with anybody and everybody who is wanting to stop following life’s prescriptions for success and instead create their own new definition altogether for truly living life.