You Might Be More Successful Than You Think

How to align your perspective with your vantage point

Jackie Badilla
Feb 10 · 6 min read
Photo by Matt LaVasseur on Unsplash

In a few paragraphs, I’m going to ask you to consider if the metrics on your scorecard for personal wellbeing and success are up-to-date. You might be wondering what that means and why that matters, so let me first offer an example of what can happen when success metrics become fixed.

Most of us are familiar with Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is a progress measurement tool created in the 1930s to inform policymakers on how to overcome the Great Depression. For that purpose, it was undoubtedly successful.

Today, GDP is the primary metric for progress in most of the world. But GDP isn’t a tool made for 21st century needs; it measures economic activity, not welfare, sustainability, or equitable distribution.

It is useful for developing nations up to a certain point, then it crosses a threshold of applicability and its success as a measurement tool plateaus. The problem is that as nations mature, their metrics for progress and welfare need to mature with them, yet GDP has remained static and mainstream.

In that sense, GDP is outdated and widely misused. The same logic applies to us; as we mature so should our measurements and perceptions of happiness and success. So I ask you now:

Are your metrics for personal wellbeing and success outdated?

It is undoubtedly useful to examine our past selves and learn from what we did right and what we did wrong. If I’m unhappy or unsuccessful today, I can look back to a time when happiness and success marked my life to understand what changed and maybe reimplement some attitudes and activities back into my life that are suddenly missing.

But it doesn’t make sense to use our past selves as the primary metric for our present selves.

When I was a child, success milestones were crawling, taking my first steps, saying my first word, demonstrating curiosity, and learning to read. By those standards, I’m now a god.

When I was a teenager, my happiness and success were based on how many friends I had, how popular we were, and how many likes I got on my Instagram. Today, I don’t have Instagram, and I’m a devout introvert, so by highschool Jackie’s standards, I’ve really hit rock bottom.

But the truth is, I’ve never been better.

When I’m in my 40s, I might define success by my salary, promotions, my professional title, or the impact I believe my work has on the world. When I finally retire, I’ll no longer have those measurements and milestones to gauge my wellbeing, but will that mean I’m unhappy and unsuccessful? If I compare my retired self to my professional self, then yes.

These examples are obvious and simplistic, but I think you’re getting the picture.

Our perspective needs to match our vantage point.

Our metrics need to fit within the context of our current life. I’m in a different place in my life today, so my definition of success and happiness need to be aligned with the present. My happiness and success metrics that functioned for me when I was 5, 15, and 20 no longer serve me. I have new needs and wants. My values have matured.

It is important to consider the role of our past and future to our vantage point. I can see where I am today, but I can also see where I was yesterday. I can use this vantage point to learn from my successes and failures to create a better plan for our future.

But, no matter where our vantage point is, we cannot see our future. We can dream about what we want and fear the things we don’t, but we can’t foretell what will make us truly happy or successful tomorrow. Or even how we will get there.

Maybe we’re unhappy today because we’re allowing our past or future selves to define our present happiness.

In short, we can learn from the past, but we cannot predict the future.

It’s good to dream. Ambitions couldn’t exist without some conceptualization of the future. But if my happiness and success always lie in my future, I’ll spend my life chasing and never actually stop and be happy and prosperous when I reach the next checkpoint.

Destinations are imaginary if our present is a never-ending journey. Consider how you weigh the past, present, and future in your own progress reports.

Take a good look at your personal scorecard.

Imagine a grade-school report card. Even write one up for extra credit. Regardless of your feelings on the education system and standardized testing, grade school report cards represent a defined, present reality.

And our report cards and rubrics change with our grade levels and the courses we’re taking. Imagine if they didn’t. If all I needed to pass high school English was perfectly reciting the alphabet, I’d be considered a genius. If I was graded on Advanced World History in kindergarten, I would have some serious setbacks.

Are there categories in your scorecard there that no longer make sense? Are you over or underestimating your wellbeing and prosperity relative to your present? Are there some sources of happiness and success that you may be overlooking because you’ve been so focused on the past or the future?

Consider GDP. It works up until a certain point, then it is no longer an appropriate indicator of wellbeing and prosperity. Another mechanism has to step in and take the reins until it too reaches its limit.

When we outgrow our definitions of success and happiness, we need to create new ones.

Maybe you indeed are unhappy and unsuccessful. Sometimes we are lead astray, we make mistakes, people hurt us, bad things happen to us for seemingly no reason, and we don’t know why.

But other times, we are unhappy and believe we’re unsuccessful because we’re living in a past that is no longer ours or a future that has yet to come. Maybe we’re more successful than we think we are because our metrics are outdated.

Maybe we’re unhappy today because we’re allowing our past or future selves to define our present happiness.

If I compare myself to my past selves’ values and dreams, I’m not anywhere close to where I thought I wanted to be. I was dying to get away from home and now I’m living with my parents. I’m not making nearly as much money as I would have wanted at this point in my life. I’m in a long-distance relationship, something I swore I’d never do. I don’t have social media. I don’t have an endless list of friends. My current job is a placeholder, not my dream. Needless to say, I’m living within my means.

Teenage Jackie would be devastated and Future Jackie would be hitting her head against the wall once she realized she probably will never make it into existence. But Present Jackie is blossoming.

I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. My diet is vibrant and clean and I exercise six days a week, two things that were always just out of reach. I’ve spent more time with my parents than I have in years. I’m finishing up my master’s degree and I have the privilege and opportunity to pursue a well overdue interest in writing. And soon enough I’ll have the pleasure of living with my fiancé in sunny Costa Rica.

I may not be where I expected, but the path I’m on is surprisingly spectacular.

Yes, I’m bragging, but life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. Of course, my current situation comes with challenges and self-doubt of its own. Sometimes I sulk. Sometimes I think I’ve under-achieved my potential.

But the most I can do for myself right now is find reasons to admire the person I am today and the path I’m currently on. And if I’m unsatisfied, put in the effort to figure out why and what can be done about it.

Whatever your reasons for unhappiness or failure, let me offer some advice:

  • Learn from the happiness and success of our past selves, or lack thereof.
  • Seek reasons for happiness and success in your present reality that you may be overlooking.
  • Rewrite your scorecard to match your vantage point, which, yes, includes the past but only functions in the present.
  • Keep growing, but don’t leave your progress metrics behind.

These suggestions are simplistic in nature. And I loathe people who try to tell me that achieving happiness and success is simple. I’m also not telling you to substitute growth and real change with convincing yourself you are happy and successful.

Consider my advice a tool in your toolbelt, not a solution. The past can hurt, and the future can be exciting (or daunting) but don’t forget to be present.

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Jackie Badilla

Written by

I write about relationships: with ourselves, with others, and with the planet.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Jackie Badilla

Written by

I write about relationships: with ourselves, with others, and with the planet.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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