Let’s start with stating the obvious: we need money to live. In a perfect, ideal world we wouldn’t, but in the one we all live in we need money, which implies that, unless you were born in an incredibly rich family or somehow ended up inheriting a fortune, we also necessarily need to work.
For most of my teen years, I grew up feeling absolutely terrified by the idea of having an ordinary life, of never doing anything remarkable that would make people know who I am. I think this was mainly caused by the fact that, ever since I entered elementary school, I was told by everyone that I was smart, talented, “above average” (what the hell is average anyway?). I was constantly told that I could achieve great things, and that I shouldn’t waste my potential. That I should aim for no less than the best. I spent high school studying until late every single day, weekends included, scoring the highest in my class and getting more and more miserable at the same time. My friends and relatives felt like they had a right telling me what I should do, “you must go study abroad, check out this *very prestigious* university”, “take this degree at this college”, “do yourself a favor and get away from your tiny town or you’ll never have a future”. Instead of helping and motivating me, their advice made me feel lost and alone. And exhausted. It didn’t matter what I liked or what I wanted to do. I just had to do something great, go to the best school, live up to people’s expectations. When I complained to my friends, all they said was “but you’re good. What can be so hard for you?”
For some time, I believed in the goals others suggested to me, and I kept them as my own goals. I did fantasize about studying in some of the most important universities in the world, leaving Italy, working for the United Nations, being successful. It sounded… cool, I suppose, but the more I thought about it, the less I felt like I could be happy. When I started university (a much less prestigious one than what some expected from me), I decided to be honest with myself.
I realized that what society sees as “success” (money, fame, wealth) isn’t appealing to me. I value freedom and self-care way more than I care about building a career, getting rich, being Someone in my chosen work field. Which doesn’t mean that all these things aren’t important, or that I plan on putting no effort in doing my job well. I simply believe success is something absolutely subjective and personal and should not be socially constructed or validated. Success is how satisfied you are with the life you’re living, how happy everything you involve yourself in – and not strictly your job – makes you feel. For some people, those with a strong vocation or those who are lucky enough to find a field they’re extremely passionate in, much of their success will come from their working activities. For some others, working will be mainly a way of earning the money they need to do what they really love. Because, let’s be honest, as poetic as it surely is, not everyone has the possibility to end up with the job of their dreams. It takes a number of factors, some of which are way beyond our own control. And that doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your life, or your talent.
For me, I think… well, I think I will feel successful with a simple job, one that gives me enough money and free time to live how I really want to live. No United Nations, no crazy weekly schedules, no overwhelming responsibilities. I’ve accepted that, for me, happiness means calm, serenity, a cup of cappuccino in the morning, weekends spent reading 19th century literature, fostering stray kittens until they find their own forever family. Things that won’t really bring me money, but that, if lost, would make any money I earn useless. I am aware that I don’t match the idea of “ambitious” person that society keeps throwing on us, but I’m over feeling ashamed or disappointing because of it.
It’s no failure to be content with an ordinary life.