Blog Editorial

Strive for Happiness, Not Success.

In the past year I’ve seen my fair share of changes. I took a chance on a new job, got married and even attempted to start my own business. The one part of this that has panned out as planned was the marriage. It’s because of this that I have started to think more and more about how I approach life. At first I think I put too much emphasis on success. When success didn’t come immediately (as it so often doesn’t) I burned out on whatever it was I was doing. This is why I’m no longer emphasizing success when planning out my path going forward. I’ve always been more successful when I’ve done what makes me happy… It sounds simple and cliche I know, but seriously it’s true.

When I was in college I wanted desperately to be a successful graphic designer. I put all of my eggs in that basket. However, I lived in a small town where a select few already had a corner on the design market and it was just too difficult to break into. No matter what I tried I just couldn’t get a client to bite, and if they did bite they usually didn’t pay. I put so much pressure on myself to be an overnight success that I really came to loathe the graphic design business altogether. It was around this time that I had started getting into podcasting and making tutorials for people on Photoshop. This was fun to me and I did it for free because it’s what I loved to do.

I spent hours recording video tutorials, writing blog posts, and posting in forums answering design related questions. I loved it! During this time I never really had a goal of becoming a teacher or a published author of any kind. However one day I got a phone call asking me to come to New York and do a screen test for Total Training. I was floored. Not only had somebody been watching my tutorials, but they actually thought I was good enough to teach on the “big stage.” The rest is, as they say, history but hopefully you get the idea. Every time I have tried to do something, even if it’s in my “wheel house,” purely for monetary reasons, I have fallen flat on my face. But, when I’m just doing what I do best and not really thinking about it, opportunity seems to just land in my lap!

This last year of my life is a great example. I took a job with a company in Oklahoma City whom I thought would really make me successful. I packed up my life and moved (with my wife) across the country in pursuit of what I thought would be a better life. The problem with this was that I let the idea of success and the echo of empty promises guide my way. In all honesty I probably wasn’t the best fit for the job. I’m a very free spirited person and I enjoy being given a wide range of creative freedom. This simply wasn’t the environment for that. I’m a pretty versatile guy that can teach a wide variety of things to a wide variety of people… Again, this was not the environment for that.

During my time at this job I began to revamp my podcasts and teach independently at conferences and events around the country. I wasn’t doing it for the money… Anyone who has done that can tell you that much. I was doing it because I loved it. I enjoyed going places and meeting new people. I enjoyed recording videos and interacting with the folks that watched them. Through these activities I began to gain some sort of notoriety again and the calls started coming in. Again, I wasn’t actively looking for work. In fact, I had a great job that paid me decent and allowed me to teach classes (like I love to do) for a living. As I said before though, I wasn’t feeling as though I was successful and therefore I burned out.

I chose to leave this job after only six months. Some may say that’s ridiculous and that I didn’t give it enough time… You may be right. However, I can tell you that now that I’m having fun again and doing what I absolutely love to do, I’ve never felt more successful. No, I don’t get a “steady” paycheck anymore and yes I had to move back to the small town in KY, but I know great things are coming because I’ve chosen happiness over success. I’m not saying it’s a recipe everyone can follow or should follow for that matter. I’m fortunate enough to have an understanding wife and a supporting family that allows me to live life on my terms. However, if you do have the opportunity to do so, I urge you to evaluate your life and see if your pipe dream of success is actually getting in the way of you being successful. Are you doing what you love? If you weren’t getting paid for what you’re doing right now, would you still go to work everyday? If the answer is no, then you’re probably getting in the way of your own success. In just a month since having this epiphany and choosing to change my path I’ve already began work for two companies that I’ve wanted to be a part of for years, booked a half-dozen speaking engagements, and been offered more freelance work than I can shake a stick at… and that’s a great feeling!


  1. Justin,

    I really liked this post and wanted to tell you that it touched me deeply and expressed some things I really needed to hear. I discovered you when you were at the short-lived job and I was sad when you left, but I can totally understand why you did. I’m glad that you decided to pursue happiness over success. That’s what I’m doing now, too. I haven’t reached the point of “success” in my mind as of yet, but I am a lot happier not chasing it and beating myself up for not being there. I am counting my blessings instead of looking at what isn’t “right” or “perfect.”

    I’m glad you are doing well and having a lot of new and wonderful opportunities. I hope to be able to take some of your classes again in the future. You are very talented and an excellent teacher!

    Best wishes to you, Debbie

  2. What’s Success Without Happiness?

    People want to succeed because they think their success can make them happy. Many successful people would beg to differ, since their successes cost them their family and their love ones. I agree with many of my role models today–our journeys are as important as our destination. If we cannot smell the flowers along the way, then what’s the point of going to places.

    George Lien

  3. What’s Success Without Happiness?

    People want to succeed because they think their success can make them happy. Many successful people would beg to differ, since their successes cost them their family and their love ones. I agree with many of my role models today–our journeys are as important as our destination. If we cannot smell the flowers along the way, then what’s the point of going to places?

    George Lien

  4. I hear ya- Spending most of my life working towards a masters in education/spending 5 years of my life working as a special educator, I pretty much packed it in. Living on the river, getting to commute to work which consists of walking across the lawn to my studio… life is good. Things like health insurance, and a steady paycheck is not one of the good things, but- I can see through it. My wife quit her job as a Rn, and we are focusing on a small newsletter that has a following. I laugh, when I can say we have a thriving print business, – most of our fans are old ladies, but hey- we are popular, and putting out a product that people want. Advertising helps pay, and I am actually getting up the nerve to do more site designs and actually ask for money/not trade. lol. Anyway, I see online teaching (k12) is in my future, and believe it is in many youngsters as well. Thanks for your honesty Justin- Not ever meeting you in person, I feel like you are like one of my friends. Keep up what keeps you moving forward. The nice thing about the internet is being able to follow and learn from people- you are one, but this couple is my favorite..

  5. Wow, you could be writing about me! Two years agao, I was laid off from a day job I had held for eleven years. Simultaneously, I had been playing music, making art and photographs and also had many freelance design clients. I loved all of my “side” work, and had a very conflicted opinion of my “day job” employers. Once I was laid off, it took me about five minutes to see this as a “GOOD” thing. Now, two years later, I am living on the edge economically, but am SO MUCH HAPPIER! Thanks for putting this post into words, and I am enjoying your presentation on CreativeLIVE. You’re in your element!

  6. You are fortunate. You’ve learned something at a young age.

    There are so many people who put all their hope of happiness on the weight of success which they think has to do with the amount of money they make. I had a friend who judged being successful this way and he is one of the most miserable men I know.

    If you go through life working at what you love then it’s not really work.

    Success to me doesn’t relate to money, don’t get me wrong, it IS nice! Family, health, friends, are priceless though. You can’t buy these.

    A wise woman once told me that she had lived in a mansion and had lived in a tent. Each was a home because of the people inside, not the structure. So surround yourself with people you love and who love you.

    Continued success!

  7. Aloha from Hawaii!
    I too have been on a similar path. I needed to walk away from my job at the university, because I was becoming a not so good employee for similar reasons you mentioned above and a huge lifestyle change. I needed to become the care giver for my mom, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (I am an only child, my father passed in 2002). I have not had a “steady” pay check since July 2010. It has been a struggle more so getting adjusted to this “new normal” and finding out what path I was going to tread on next personally. It has also been a HUGE blessing. I have made half my regular pay this year by just word of mouth gigs in photography, social media, and graphics ( I am a geologist by training, LOL!). I TOTALLY get it’s better to happy than successful. I have also gone through the struggles of what every else thinks I should be doing or how they think my life should be. Over it all… I know that I am doing what’s best for my mom… I want to have no regrets. Being on this crazy path for the last 1.5 years I have also realized that I don’t want to go back to a 9 to 5 job ever. It’s been a year of learning, growing and learning about me. Things are really starting to take shape now, as 2012 approaches I can see where my next step should be. I have learned to be a risk taker and adjust to the reality of life. My pastor says “Blessed are the flexible, because they will not be broken!” Great being a part of you class on CL the past few days and as a former apps trainer for a global company, I chuckled every time something didn’t work. If you were not “LIVE” on the internet you know it would have all worked fine. How do I learn more about your weight loss story?
    Have you seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead?

    All the best to you Justin on you path of happiness! I am just a few steps behind you, but plan on catching up soon!

    Aloha pumehana,
    Tina Mahina

  8. Hey Justin – Thanks for the “real” post. For me, this post helped me with some needed closure from some lingering questions and unknown answers.

    I am very glad that I have had the chance to meet you (and your wife) in person and even have a few dinners while we all were in OKC.

    You are an inspiration for many and the pull string for many of us who got to experience a lightbulb moment from your teachings.

    Kerry 🙂

    1. Hey Kerry – This post doesn’t necessarily “tell the tale” in its entirety, but this really isn’t the place to air dirty laundry 😉 As I said, I had to do what’s best for me and my family and I think this was the right move. Thanks for keeping in touch, and I hope life treats you well in whatever you do.

  9. You’re right, there’s nothing new here but it needed to be said (blogged) again. As Americans we are heirs to the idea of self-determination but living is more trial and error than straight-as-an-arrow path. Someone else said (I think Robert Bly, but maybe not originally, who’s to say?) we make the path by walking. We have values by which we sometimes base our decisions but so much of what happens to us is a product of factors bigger than we are and unexpected, joyously a surprise! So we put together our credo, each time life again throws us curve balls but we go and in the long term learn to embrace the journey in which we sometimes take the steps but just as often takes the steps for us! Our biggest responsibility may be simply to be honest with ourselves, to be sincere and truthful, when we become aware of where we are.

    I listened to your last Internet workshop on CL and liked it I bought the product mostly to show my gratitude. Thanks, Justin. More power to you!

  10. Good points Justin!
    I have never strived for outward success, just my own approval.
    I keep myself to my own high standards.

    I have taken certain jobs I knew I would not love, but knew I would grow with & I did.
    As I get older being true to myself & being happy is much more important than being successful & rich. If I am doing what I love and money is coming in I feel blessed.
    Feeling blessed is a wonderful form of success.

  11. Hey Justin, here are my thoughts.

    You have just helped me a lot on continuing to pursue my happiness. I have been playing inline hockey for about 17 years, 6 for the national team, but, as we don’t have ice hockey in Brazil, the sport is nothing but amateur, without any kind of sponsors or space on the media. I worked as graphic design/web design too, but i never felt like “that’s it, i love design”. I like it, it helps me in a lot of different ways, but then i started photographing, and that is something i waited a long time to get started, even knowing i was going to get crazy about it. Now here i am, getting involved the way i can, studying to improve my knowledge and develop my skills. Thanks for the post, the workshops on creativeLIVE and the tutorial videos around the social medias.

  12. Just so you know you’re the most successful and most famous person I know. I would have guessed that you had millions if you wouldn’t have just admitted publicly. So, isn’t that what it’s all about. Being famous and super successful to the people who matter and those of us who care? Cause we do!!!! I loved this

  13. Justin,

    You are a great inspiration my friend! Thanks for the post… This really hit home with me because once I decided that I was just going to be taking on jobs and working with people to actually “help” and further myself in a manner that allowed for me to enjoy my job (as I am doing what I love doing) than like you things have just been coming together.

    I REALLY enjoyed you at that OKC place and really wished you were still around doing things there. But I totally get what you are saying about doing it all for your family. Love what you are doing and hope to catch up with you on Google + or Twitter sometime lol

    1. Hey David, thanks for the comment. I had a great time while I was in OKC, and I loved the community there. Some things just don’t work out like we plan, unfortunately. Best of luck in all you do and please stay in touch.

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