The Zuckerbergs, the Oprahs, the Gateses – they’re the usual suspects who pop up in discussions about success. They’ve rightfully earned their statuses as hallowed gods in the pantheon of achievers, and we love to parse their stories, sleeping habits, and breakfast choices for clues about how they did it.
But industry giants aren’t the only ones worthy of analysis. From photographers and video game designers to food scientists and sports journalists, there’s a vast body of people who’ve made careers out of what excites them. These individuals share something in common – and Roadtrip Nation has spent 15 years interviewing professionals of every kind to find out what that something is.
Roadtrip Nation started when fresh-out-of-college grads Nathan Gebhard, Brian McAllister, and Mike Marriner hit the road in a beat-up R.V. to talk to people who had forged livelihoods doing what they love. More than a decade later, it has grown into a long-running PBS series, an educational organization, and a movement of people committed to living lives true to their interests.
So, what did Roadtrip Nation find? It’s not a magical five-step method for success you can read in a listicle. It’s not an anchoring life principle. It’s not an acronym you can learn at a workshop. And frankly, if you study the lives of the thousands they’ve talked to – from Supreme Court justices to lobstermen – their decisions look starkly different.
But there is a common approach that ties together their journeys: a process of self-construction that’s allowed them to avoid dreading Mondays and create satisfying careers centered on their interests, values, and vision.
The Roadtrip Nation cofounders outline this approach from their new book, Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life, so you, too, can adopt it.
Let Go of Misaligned Ideas About Yourself
From the moment we enter the world, expectations from family, friends, and society are piled onto us. These build up to form boundaries around our dreams. From advertisements that show us what to strive for to our educations that prescribe narrow choices and our moms’ well-meaning advice that reflects their own desires more than ours, we’re constantly showered with other people’s visions of success.
These ideas about who we should be and what we should do tend to worm into our brains, overpowering our internal aspirations. Soon, we find ourselves careening down paths that aren’t our choosing, and decades can fly by before we realize we’re living someone else’s life.
So, how do you seize control? Study yourself. Ask questions about where you’re headed and why – things like: Am I here because of my own choices or others’ wishes? Am I engaged in my work or living for the weekend? Am I being true to myself?
If the answers to these questions are alarming, it’s time to tune out others’ dictates and start listening to your own needs.
Define What Success Means to You.
We live in an era when it’s common to tirelessly document your every move, crop out the imperfections, and share these cleaned-up moments with the world for approval. It’s no wonder we’re trapped in the snare of external validation, making decisions based on how they’ll appear to others on Facebook.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting the cars, vacations, and promotions we can flaunt on social media. The problem is when we measure success by these superficial trappings ignore the work we had to do to acquire them.
The people who find authentic happiness look beyond society’s one-size-fits-all view of success and define it for themselves. How do you do this? By distancing yourself from the envy-inducing pressure cooker of social media and the hectic motions of the daily grind. Think about what matters to you when all of that is stripped away.
Break your vision of success into categories: What does success mean to you financially? With family? At work? Your priority could be financial stability, spending time with loved ones, or the ability to work for yourself. Identifying these core motivations will help you dismiss paths that are incongruent with your values and find ones that fit.
Accept That You’ll Keep Changing
Things that satisfy at 25 probably won’t satisfy at 45. Time marches on, and priorities shift as we move into new life stages. So even if you find that “one thing” that grips you, it’s bound to evolve – and with the pace of job change, it might not exist in the same form in the future.
As these waves of change approach you, you have to move like a surfer. Don’t fight it. Ride it and make constant adjustments to stay on your feet. If you’re consistently exploring areas that interest you and expanding your skills in lateral directions, you won’t just tackle what’s thrown your way – you’ll avoid stagnancy when you’ve outgrown something.
It’s easier than ever to curate your own set of capacities to stay relevant to the world and yourself. Take an online class, watch a YouTube tutorial, join a Meetup of people with similar interests, or just follow someone on Twitter who inspires you.
Ultimately, by shedding pressures, defining what you truly want, and courting change, you’ll be able to stay on a path that’s true to who you are – and who you’re becoming.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
For 15 years, Roadtrip Nation has been talking with professionals of every kind and asking the questions that no one is asking – honest questions about their struggles, successes, and how they solved out the age-old problem, “What should I do with my life?”
From video game designers to lawyers, sports journalists to STEM professionals and everything in between, Roadtrip Nation has sought out untold stories and shared them. These stories form the basis of its career-exploration products – including an educational curriculum, personalized online tools, video content, bestselling books, and live events. Together, these tools create a diverse and relevant collection of resources showing young people the vast scope of careers and possibilities.