Beyond careers and kids: Redefining normative measures of success

Beyond careers and kids: Redefining the normative measures of success

There’s a prevailing narrative that life is a race towards certain milestones.

Whether it’s establishing a career or raising a family, we’re often told these are the definitive measures of success. But what if you don’t want either of those things?

What if you seek fulfilment elsewhere? Isn’t it time we reassessed what success truly means and expanded our societal narrative to incorporate a wider array of life paths?

The societal narrative around success has indeed shifted over time.

“We are moving toward greater and greater acceptance of the narrative ‘you can have it all. But not at once’,” said Danielle Dobson, the founder of Code Conversations and author of Breaking the Gender Code.

It’s a sentiment reflecting the complexities of modern life – juggling professional ambitions, personal aspirations, and societal expectations.

As Dobson rightly acknowledges, the journey towards this acceptance hasn’t been without its fair share of pain and sacrifice. The struggle to achieve this elusive ‘all’ has often resulted in strained relationships, self-doubt, and feelings of disconnection.

Despite these challenges, the evolution of the societal narrative has not been without its rewards.

Dobson notes that when we shift our focus from ‘what’s wrong’ to ‘what’s strong’, the narrative’s evolution has actually benefited people on multiple levels.

By embracing our strengths and acknowledging our capabilities beyond traditional roles, we can explore new paths, make unique contributions, and derive fulfilment in diverse ways.

The core of the problem isn’t really about the alternatives we pursue, it’s that we feel compelled to justify our existence based on these traditionally prescribed markers of achievement.

Supporting this notion is the persistent societal narrative, explored in depth in Gina Rushton’s book The Most Important Job in the World, that if you don’t have children then you have to have an incredible career, but what if you don’t want either of those things? She asks: “Why is that the only accepted alternative – that if you’re not producing people then you have to produce profit?”

We also live in an era that celebrates individuality and self-expression, yet we can’t seem to shake off the antiquated views of success that don’t necessarily resonate with everyone.

These pressures can lead to feelings of failure or inadequacy, especially when one’s journey does not align with societal norms. In a world where mental health and self-care are gaining recognition, it’s high time we accepted that happiness, in whatever form it takes, is a valid and worthy pursuit.

Author, speaker, coach, and corporate consultant Danielle Dobson

Author, speaker, coach, and corporate consultant Danielle Dobson.

According to Dobson, it’s about “reframing contribution and resetting expectations”.

We often view contributions as performative, implying that the value of our existence is tied to visible productivity or creation. This view neglects the significance of other roles, such as supporting, caring, and carrying out the ‘grunt work’ that makes the world turn.

Dobson emphasises that there are countless ways individuals can add value to relationships, teams, and societies without following the traditional paths of career or parenthood.

From those who pour their hearts into volunteer work, to those who provide emotional support to their communities, their contribution to society is just as meaningful and deserves recognition.

In fact, individuals who find fulfilment in non-traditional ways can have a hugely positive impact on society. A person’s happiness and fulfilment can create a ripple effect, positively influencing those around them. A fulfilled individual is likely to be more engaged, more compassionate, and more present – traits that can be beneficial in any societal setting.

Dobson proposes the CAAP strategy as a tool for navigating life’s challenges and societal expectations. It stands for Curiosity, Acceptance, Ask, and Perspective.

This strategy encourages us to be curious about our own and others’ experiences, to accept our environments and roles within them, to ask rather than assume, and to adopt an empathetic perspective towards others’ realities.

The CAAP strategy allows us to listen to our unique needs and desires, helping us build our personal code for success and fulfilment. It’s about living in a way that aligns with our unique life goals, values, and sources of happiness.

Our lives are ours to shape, whether that includes a high-powered career, raising children, or pursuing another path entirely. After all, isn’t the essence of life to find our happiness and live authentically?

As Dobson suggests: “You can choose to build your own unique code, focus on what’s strong and confidently tackle what’s next”.

Let’s embrace this notion and focus on radical acceptance of what makes us happy, regardless of modern expectations.

Carla Horvath

Carla Horvath

Carla Horvath is a journalist with a background in public relations and digital marketing.

Her dynamic career has taken her across diverse cultural landscapes including the United States, Vietnam, and Australia, further enhancing her world view through excursions in over 40 different countries. With a career spanning 13 years, Carla weaves together personal experiences, current trends, and expert interviews into compelling, insightful stories.