Once you hit a milestone in life, whether is graduating school, getting that first job, getting promoted, or finding success as an entrepreneur, people will congratulate you, will claim you’re so accomplished, and then use you as inspiration when trying to motivate their kids (or themselves). Everyone will ask you about the road to success, and of course, you’ll say it’s all hard work and persistence.
In a conventional sense, I’ve also heard people talk about the road to success in a stepwise fashion: when you’re in high school start to think about the future, develop a backup plan as well, make sure you get a job at a young age so you learn work ethic, once you graduate college consider higher education and keep an open mind about your job search, once you start working continue to educate yourself and refine your skills to move up, etc. etc.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating a site map of sorts of the different steps to take. However, what about the things we don’t talk about? The sacrifices we make that people brush off because maybe it’s not seen as a big deal? The struggle is real and the reality of achieving success – however you define it – is much tougher than just hard work and persistence.
So, what am I talking about? Check out this list below. In addition to all that hard work, these are sacrifices I’ve made, ones I’ve seen friends make, and issues that I’ve continued to deal with even though I’ve reached many people’s definitions of success many times over.
At the end of each section I mark a paragraph with (**) to highlight some of the wisdom I’ve gained from my own experiences over the years.
The Road to Success: What You Don’t See
I’m not even sure how many hours of lost sleep I’ve accumulated over the years. The loss is due to stress and anxiety about exams, presentations, wondering if I’m good enough (yup, imposter syndrome – and nope it’s not completely gone yet), trying to figure out the future and the path I’m on.
The sleeplessness has not gotten better with time. As I’ve gotten older, it’s just changed. I used to not be able to fall asleep. Now I sometimes struggle to stay asleep, or I’m dealing with super vivid dreams. When you don’t that deep restorative sleep you need, it can take a toll.
**I now use a meditation app each night to listen to calming music. I exercise regularly and try to read before bed. All of which help my brain decompress.
Diets falling apart
I’m sure many people can attest to this one. Everyone handles stress differently. I went through periods where I ate my way through it. I also went through a time at the end of medical school where my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t eat at all. The thought of food, or even water, made me nauseous. I seriously thought I had an ulcer.
On the flip side, I know many who gained weight. As we all know, stress makes it harder to lose weight (that hormone cortisol is not your friend). When you’re not able to maintain the healthy lifestyle you want, it contributes to further stress and more lost sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.
**I have a promise to myself to eat at least two different fruits each day. I’ve noticed that eating the natural sugars in the fruits has reduced my cravings for refined sweets and carbs. When I do eat carbs, I try to make sure it’s of the whole grain variety. These small changes help me feel fuller longer, give me more energy and I’ve maintained a healthy weight (despite eating more).
The Toll on Your Health
To combine the above two points, I know many who developed actual medical problems (meaning they were diagnosed and treated) because of bad diets and lack of sleep. Often, these issues turn chronic and become just something you have to live and deal with.
As an example from myself, throughout different periods of life, my body has reacted to stress in different ways. I’ve experienced crazy hard palpitations that have woken me up from a deep sleep during the beginning of medical school, my face going numb during my MBA, being nauseous at the thought of food at the end of medical school, dealing with stress hives and breakouts now as an attending.
**It doesn’t end; but you do learn to cope and deal with it and try to manage it by reducing your stress through sleep, meditation, exercise, and trying to eat better. I also see a therapist which has helped tremendously.
No social life
My entire decade of my 20s went towards my schooling and training. While I made new friends at each stage and went out and socialized as much as I could, the overall ability to do this was limited.
On top of that when you’re tired, stressed, hungry, and filled with self-doubt, you don’t necessarily make the best company. Finding people to be friends with, to socialize with, becomes much harder. Finding people who understand what you’re going through, who can relate, also becomes much tougher as you get older and continue to advance in your career.
**What I’ve learned over the years: your inner circle will get smaller, however it will be all the more important because the people in it will know you best and be your biggest cheerleaders.
No dating life
If you’ve spent any time on this blog you know that I’m still single. When so much of your time goes towards your career goals, you have little time for dating. The caveat is if you get lucky enough to meet someone through your work.
The other issue here: not many people actually understand the pursuit of career aspirations. So to find someone who gets it, is super difficult.
**Dating is hard all around and each person will approach it differently based on their priorities and where they are in life. I’ve come to accept that my attempts at it are enough and that what is meant to happen will happen, in its own time.
Time Away From Family and Friends
Over the years, I have only seen my family on holidays and major events. And even then, there are times when I can’t make it home for even those. More often than not, if people want to see me they have to come to visit me.
I’ve also missed friends weddings and other life events because I either lived too far away and couldn’t take the time off, or I just couldn’t get away from work or my own life stuff.
The sacrifice of time away from loved ones is really hard. I’ve missed cousins growing up, numerous birthday parties, and I’m never there for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
**You must take the opportunities you have to spend time with your family. Don’t put them off till later. Don’t say “next time”. Life is short. If you have a chance to include family or loved ones in your plans, then do it.
Criticism from people who don’t know you
What I’ve learned over the years is that the more you do something different, the more you take the path less traveled or blaze through and make your own, the more criticism you will receive. The criticism takes the form of questions, judgments, telling you something can’t be done, telling you that you can’t do something or shouldn’t do something, or just making fun of your attempts and work. These naysayers aren’t just those close to you, but also people who don’t even know you.
This is also true now, even though I’m done with school and training. Attempting to even write a blog or look for different things to occupy my time, bring about judgments (as opposed to the traditional, expected path of looking for a husband, going to brunch and watching reality TV shows to occupy my time).
**Part of achieving and keeping your success is to power through it and recognize that it’s just a part of it. I’ve learned that for some, even seeing others do something that challenges their comfort zone, can lead them to react negatively to you (aka, their criticism has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them)
You Sometimes Have to Start Over Multiple times
Part of pursuing your goals is to go where the opportunities are. This often means having to move multiple times. That means starting over again and again in a new city or town, making new friends again, and getting reacquainted with a new way of life.
I personally have gone from home to school to training to more training to my new job. I’ve moved four times in the last 10 years. Each time it got harder and harder to settle in and meet people.
**In the same course, while you’re struggling to adjust to your life changes, you may lose friends, lose touch with people you cared about, or alienate others. Let them go.
Everything above can contribute to this insane feeling of loneliness. You wonder why you’re making the sacrifices you’re making. Seeing people on social media makes it worse because it looks like everyone else is having a great time, a happy life, and no worries in the world.
I know many, including myself, who have spent countless days and nights crying and wondering what the hell we’re doing and if it’s worth it. You want to give up so many times and just go have fun and find the happiness and carefree life that everyone else has, that you ultimately want.
You feel alone because no one else you know seems to be making the same sacrifices; no one else understands why you are; many don’t even see the sacrifices or the struggle. You feel alone because there are so many OTHER things you want in life too (spouse, travel, kids, nice things, etc) that you don’t have yet, and wonder if you ever will.
**This doesn’t always go away, unfortunately. So long as you are blazing a new path, prioritizing career and work, or doing anything unconventional, you will struggle with loneliness. I think the only thing that changes is it becomes easier to cope. As you start seeing results of your hard work, though, you’ll understand that your road to success was well worth your sacrifices and where you now becomes much easier to accept.
The “Road to Success” Is not universal
Not everyone has to make all these sacrifices or deal with the struggles I’ve mentioned. If you are lucky to not have to move or live close by your people then the ability to spend time with them or stay connected becomes much easier. Some people meet their life partners along the way and don’t have to deal with dating and social woes.
To Clarify, these aren’t required either
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you have to sacrifice everything I did, or others do, to achieve the success you want. The road to success as a universal topic includes sacrifice and hard work as I’ve mentioned, but the way it plays out for each individual person will differ. Success means different things to different people. Everyone’s path to success is also different, yet every path has some struggle, some stress, and frustration. Often the day to day issues and sacrifices aren’t seen. Instead, we only see the end result, the accomplishments.
I wrote all these down because I want people to understand what really goes on behind the scenes, that any path to success isn’t easy. I want anyone struggling now to realize that they aren’t alone and to keep trucking through. Embrace the suck and continue on.
It will be worth it
For some, there may be more that they have to give up. Understand that everything happens for a reason; your sacrifices now will pay off in ways you never even imagined. All of this is making you a better and stronger person; the sacrifices will be worth it in the end because you’ll have a level of success that many won’t (and can’t) have.