| Oct 19, 2022

In Search for New Normal, People Are Paving Alternative Roads to Success

Those bold enough to challenge the old assumptions about work and happiness are redefining success for the digital age.

When asked to think of success, what are some common ideas we imagine: A nice home? Retiring early? World travel? Time and financial flexibility to volunteer for causes we hold dear? Happiness?

Before the pandemic, most people saw these ideas as elusive and out of reach, but there were some outliers and digital nomads, like me, who had already made a lifestyle out of traveling and flexible working hours. Now, things are changing: COVID has accelerated the digital transformation, inspiring more people than ever to challenge the norms of success, and how they want to get there. 

As the federal drive for universal broadband extends across the country and closes the digital divide, there is a greater opportunity to contribute to this booming digital economy. Already, there are many examples of those taking the lead. From dropshippers and influencers, to video game players and homesteaders, people have been paving unconventional digital career paths and consequently, changing the narrative on success.

Success on Their Own Terms

In 2015, Gabriel Beltran had dreams of making it as a drummer, but very little in the pocket to support him along the way. After many years struggling, he discovered dropshipping — a business venture where a seller identifies products on a Chinese marketplace and sells them to U.S. and European markets at a high margin. Not only was he able to make $20 million this way, but working as a dropshipper allowed him the flexibility to pursue his passions as a drummer and build the lifestyle he always wanted. 

I met travel influencer Kate McCulley in 2013 on one of her trips to Nicaragua. After we sang Bohemian Rhapsody at a karaoke bar, she described to me her decision to call it quits at her corporate job in 2010 to travel the world. Twelve years later, she’s traveled to 83 countries, visited every continent, and became one of the most popular female travel influencers in the world.

These are only two examples out of many. Influencer marketing alone has seen astronomical growth, from a $3 billion industry in 2017 to $16.4 billion in 2022. Most digital careers also have a relatively low entry threshold and unlimited earning potential, making them incredibly attractive to people looking for success without following convention.

And it’s not always all about money. Thousands of people have opted for work-life balance and personal happiness over chasing riches. Ian Karle worked as a project manager for an oil and gas company before the pandemic, but today runs his own artisanal chocolate business. Despite taking a significant pay cut, he says the happiness his new career brings him is absolutely worth it. Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung, on the other hand, chose to work hard and retire early, a practice becoming so popular it started a movement — finance independence, retire early (FIRE). Today Shen and Leung travel the world, living off of the dividends their early investments make them each year.


My Unconventional Success Story

I, too, paved my own unconventional path to success. Early on, I let passion, happiness, and satisfaction drive most of my professional moves. By 2012, after three degrees in art, political science, and Latin American studies, my curiosity for travel took me through Central America, Brazil, Germany, and Thailand with nothing more than a laptop and a 17-kilo hiking pack. My philanthropy inspired me to volunteer in Costa Rica, Haiti, India, and Portugal, and with the people of an indigenous village, where I still have dear friends.

Throughout my travels, I was always working on something. I started a vegan catering company and my own custom dressmaking business. I published a novel, ghostwrote several books, and built a successful writing career. I taught English, ran an indigenous art gallery, coordinated large projects and most recently, got certified as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. All of these experiences are still a part of who I am today. They led me to a full-time writing job that I love and a bunch of well-developed interests that bring in additional income. Not to mention I have two decades filled with adventure that I get to keep for life.

Along the way, some people romanticized how “great it must be” to not care about “success” simply because my success story defied their conventions. Others criticized or demeaned my choices as a waste of time. But now, I have no problems finding a job or earning an income because my skill sets are so broad. Having worked with people from around the world, I do well on a team. I still get messages from students who thank me for helping them change their lives. Most days, I reflect on my life and feel nothing but success.

Finding the Courage to Go for It

From priesthood in the Middle Ages to the tech jobs in the past two decades, the path to success has always been an evolving construct. Society has already moved the goalposts on success in the face of advancing technology, and so can we.

The first step to designing our own success is to look beyond what we’ve been taught and imagine what success could be if we looked at it through the prism of happiness. We can drive the activities that get us excited and immerse us in such joy that we lose track of time. If we feel unsure about where to start, we can look among the many examples of others paving unconventional paths, find those who have already attempted something similar to our vision, and reach out for advice.

Changing our trajectory doesn’t mean we have to uproot our whole lives either. We can be intentional about incremental changes to our careers. We can examine how our skills might be transferable to a new industry more aligned with our interests and explore digital tools to build up experience in those fields in our free time. A friend of mine is a mom who started working as a business coach on the side because helping people find success makes her happy. She is keeping her full-time job until coaching can replace her main income, but she’s taking the necessary steps to realize her new vision of professional success. 

To me, happiness and success go hand in hand — follow one and you find the other. And between digital tools and emerging opportunities, now has never been a better time to build both. Develop a portfolio career with multiple steams of income. Or give a passion project a go. People today have more avenues than ever to carve out their unique pathways to success and happiness. But first, they have to step outside the box and try.

Graceann Barrett
Executive Author

Executive Writer, Massive Alliance

Graceann is Executive Writer at Massive Alliance, a published author, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach covering topics where health, wellness, and business intersect. view profile


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