Home Empowerment What Is Success: Five Things I’ve Learned While Chasing My Dreams

What Is Success: Five Things I’ve Learned While Chasing My Dreams

This Is Success

What is success? What does it look like. Is it something we can touch and grab and hold, or is it something we just feel? I spent the first seven years of my professional life chasing success, but it was only until recently that I was able to really accept what it meant for me. Webster’s defines success as a favorable or desired outcome, but that feels to small for what I’m talking about today.

Many of you may not realize, but I spent the latter part of 2011 and the first half of 2012 — almost 18 months — sitting in a purgatory that existed somewhere between unemployed and semi-retired. I was unemployed in the sense that – aside from helping to grow this here blog, I was without a “job”; I was semi-retired in the sense that – for the bulk of that time, I wasn’t actively pursuing employment. I know what you all are thinking: a black man without a job in America in 2011/2012 – way to be a statistic buddy — right? No, it wasn’t like that. First, a little back story.

My last 2.5 years in college, I essentially worked a full time job at a huge, financial institution while also going to school full time. After college, I took a full time job working at that same institution. It all happened really, really fast. First, I was in an intern program for college students, then after graduating from that program, I went straight into an analyst program. That program lasted for 2 years, but was divided into six month intervals where we’d travel through different areas of the company learning the business and impacting those areas along the way. We were supposed to be the young talent that would do things that sound cool like ‘innovate’ and ‘create efficiencies’ but really we were just a bunch of kids fresh out of college with decent paying jobs trying to figure out what the real world was about. What was both cool – and cancerous about the program was that it shielded us all from the reality of having to get up everyday and do something you hated. Each rotation was only six months. If you didn’t like what you were doing, you knew it wouldn’t be for long, and you assumed that it was this particular rotation not this entire line of work. Plus, during that time, I got married, made a major move from Long Island to Brooklyn and had a host of other awesome, outside of work things to fill my time. I enjoyed the whole ‘kid from the hood makes it on Wall St.’ narrative I’d created for myself. I felt ‘successful’.

After the program ended, one of my old bosses from one of my rotations offered me a position working with his team – I took it. That was June of 2007. The next thing I knew – four years flew by. During that time it became painfully obvious to me (and my bosses) that I absolutely hated my job. I hated everything about it. To their credit – they were super generous and made it very easy to part ways (I realize I’m being vague here, but not really sure how much of this I’m allowed to disclose). Anyway – in November of 2011, it was a wrap.

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Here’s where things got interesting. I had two choices. I could a) Talk to one of the headhunters constantly calling and have them find me something similar to what I’d been doing. or b) Do something else. I decided on the latter. After months of deliberation, I decided that I wanted to make my living with words. Now, with six years of experience in financial services, transitioning to something completely unrelated was not without its difficulties. I started slow – with my own, personal blog called The Lower Frequency (shoutout to those of you who read that joint). That lead me here – to SBM. And it’s been the work I’ve done here alongside Dr. J, SBM The OG, Slim, Streetz and WIS that eventually lead to the gig I have now. I’m not a boss. I’m not ballin, but I do wake up everyday excited to go to work and in the rare, indulgent moments where I allow myself to contemplate my future – I feel good about it.

So what the hell does all of this have to do with success? Everything and nothing. What I’ve come to realize as I look back on the last nine years or so is that only during moments of discontent did I contemplate success. Success for me wasn’t about accomplishing a particular goal or achieving a particular dream – it was about escaping whatever my reality was at the time. It was about latching on to some mythical place I’d one day get to that would somehow make worthwhile all the hours I was wasting each day doing something that left me unfulfilled. When I decided to devote my career to things I loved – I stopped worrying about success. It became about doing a job. It became about being proud of what I’ve produced. It became about making an impact. All cliches I know, but also all truth. I no longer need to look longingly at the phantom that is success using it as motivation to do something I don’t really want to do. My motivation is self-evident, apparent and inextricably woven into the DNA of my days… and that feels pretty awesome.

So, today I want to share with you all a few of the things I’ve learned along this journey I’ve shared above. They’ve been helpful for me and I hope they’re helpful for you:

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Dream On5: Stop Daydreaming

“I’m sitting in the crib dreaming about leer jets and coupes, the way Salt shoops and how to sell records like snoop…”

Daydreaming is probably one of the worst pastimes you can develop an addiction to. At one point during my years working in finance I developed a nasty, nasty habit of simply daydreaming. Sitting around, thinking about other stuff I should be doing, other stuff I could be doing, and ultimately stuff I’d never be doing because I was spending so much time day dreaming. It got to the point where I was daydreaming so much that I convinced myself that I was actually plotting my escape and so – it was all healthy because it would eventually come in handy. Nah. Chill. I’m not saying one shouldn’t dream, but when your dreaming is slowing you down – time to give it up. 90% of the time we spend daydreaming could probably be spent doing something that might make our dreams realities.

How does one stop daydreaming? Honestly, I don’t know that we can stop completely. We’re humans – we are aware of our existence – that’s our gift and curse. I was able to reduce the amount of time I wasted daydreaming simply by organizing my day more thoroughly. Stuff like, “from this time, till this time, I will do this,” or “I will not go to bed until I finish this…”

4: “What Do I Like, What Am I Good At”

“I’m trying to keep it alive and not compromise the feelings we love.”

When I was at the point in my life where I was trying to figure out which direction to go next, I kept asking myself the two questions above. I still ask myself these two questions every once in a while. They key is asking both. I love playing basketball – I’m not good enough to play in the NBA. I was pretty good at navigating corporate finance, but I didn’t like it enough to do it forever. I like writing, I think I can one day be a pretty good writer. Bingo. Boom. There it is. That’s what I’m going to focus on.

The other thing it took me a long time to understand is that talent isn’t as valuable as I always thought it was. The truth is, there are a ton of talented people in this world. In our culture and society we’ve somehow attached a certain measure of entitlement to talent. We think that because we’re pretty good and something, we’re entitled to put minimum effort into it and reap maximum rewards from it. Talent will open doors, but once you get in the room you realize it’s full of other talented people. Hard work is what separates the talented who do, from the talented who don’t.

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3: Ignore What Others Think

“But do you have the power to get out from up under you.

We spend years creating and cultivating the sides of ourselves we present to the world. What do you do when you realize that who you’re presenting is pretty distant from who you really are or who you really want to be. True power is having the ability to get out from up under the you you’ve created. As much as I hate to admit it now, and as much as it makes me cringe to confess: I used to care a lot about what people thought of me. Letting that go was a huge step for me. Admitting that who I’d been was not who I best suited to be took time, but once I did – I was so surprised at how many people supported and encouraged my decision. Check out this video below. It proves that when you decide to be yourself and commit to it fully, the world will at first watch, then they’ll laugh, then they’ll mock… and then, eventually … they’ll follow.

2: “I’m Not As Dope As I Want To Be”

Ira-Glass-Quote I read this quote, at least once a week. It’s a constant reminder that it’s completely normal to know that you suck as long as you understand that only way to get beyond that is to keep pushing through. Other than that – this pretty much speaks for itself.

1. Don’t share you’re ideas

“‘I want money like Cosby’ ‘Who Wouldn’t? It’s this kinda talk that makes me think you probably ain’t got no pudding.'”

Some people are the kind of people who “speak stuff into existence.” Some people are the kind of people who accomplish more when they work with an “accountability partner” – someone they share their ideas with so that the person can then follow up and make sure those ideas are being executed. Those kinds of people are not me. The more people I tell an idea to, the less likely it is that the idea ever becomes anything tangible. It’s a biological thing. For many of us, when we share an idea and receive a positive response from whomever we’re sharing it with, our brains release the same satisfaction inducing hormones it would have released had we actually taken the idea to completion. Basically, we’re getting the reward without actually having done the work. This kills a great deal of the motivation we had for whatever it is we want to do. Try it. The next time you have a great idea, don’t tell anyone … instead – do what I’ve learned to do…

stay low and keep firing.

Twitter: @MrSpradley Email: MrSpradley@singleblackmale.org
Twitter: @MrSpradley Email: [email protected]



  1. I agree with everything except for daydreaming. I mean, I really think #4 is a direct result of the daydreaming. The very quote you mention is what I listen to in the morning before going to work while I'm thinking about where I'd like to be in 2, 3, 5, 10 years.

    My friend's father (though I never met him) gave some good advice that he passed to me. His dad said "its not supposed to be fun, that's why its called WORK". That helps me to understand the cards I've been dealt that aren't quite a perfect hand and but if I play them right the maybe there will be a day that I can call work fun (and not be dependent on moms).

    But the other stuff is spot on. There are always going to be doubters and nonbelievers. People are always going to tell you you can't do it because they've never seen it done before – especially when you talk about being "successful" and a "Black male" – two things that our society doesn't seem to think go together.

    I think I'd add some things like "learn to recognize advice (instead of just ignorance)" and "know when its time to press on and when its time to bow out".

    Sometimes you'll get "advice" from people that are just people hating on you for being you, but sometimes its like what Pac talks about when he says "Til the dealer on the block told me, 'That ain't cool You ain't meant to slang crack, you a rapper fool'". That dealer could be one of the most influential people in hip hop if he inspired Pac to become one of the greatest rappers ever. But if Pac heard this as somebody just trying to compete over turf or just hating, he may have never realized his potential.

    I think this is a really hard part of success because some of the people we respect the most (maybe our mom) may say something like (its ok if you don't finish) and though she means well, you've gotta know that she's wrong because if you really want it that bad then its NOT ok if you don't finish. And likewise, somebody else may say something like (you'll never finish if you keep doing this) and you may take that as hate, but what they're really saying is that its not that you can't finish, but the shortest path from DC to NY doesn't involve a trip to LA.

    That's my $.02.
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    1. I think daydreaming in moderation is straight. It's like the poem says – 'If you can dream and not make dreams your master – if you can think and not make thoughts your aim'

      You just don't want to get to the point where you daydreaming more than you're doing.

      I like the other two additions. I'm terrible at seeking advice. It's a hubris thing for me though.

  2. I’m sort of in that limbo now, where I’m not sure what exactly what I want to do. As I think it’s more wife/kids/being comfortably debt free, but I’m not sure what would be my dream job. My hobbies (drawing, writing) are hobbies, to pursue as a career would kill it, I like being able to do things when I’m able to, no pressure to make money. Or perhaps my dream is to ultimately have flexibility to pursue whatever it is I want. I should start investing more.

    1. What I found in my career was that I could only be but so successful doing something that I wasn't passionate about. Feel like my career is progressing way more rapidly now that I'm actually doing something I like.

  3. JESUS! I seriously coulda wrote this dang post myself, lol…accept I'm just getting to the point of stepping out of the boat. See, what had happened was…

    My bff and I originally wanted to be big shot lawyers, found out we'd have to go to law school after college (DEVIL!!!!!!), said "naw, how else can we make big money fairly quickly", looked into computers, said "sold". I went to a career prep middle school for computer, math and science, went to a career prep high school for Information Systems, got a student job for a govn't agency, went to college for Information Systems, transitioned into a college-to-career program at the same govn't agency, graduated from college, and now I've been working in IT for 11 years. About 2-3 years ago, I completely lost the love for this. I've been pursuing or working at this just to get money for about 20 years now…since I was 13…and I just can't anymore. I get nothing out of this. My body is literally shutting down. I'm having trouble getting up, falling asleep, taking forever to do the simplest tasks…its just really bad.

    1. In my sophomore year of college, I took a sociology class that literally lit up my life. It was like a light bulb turned on inside me and I had an innate understanding of what I was reading in the text and discussing in class. Shoot, I was actually READING, not skimming, the text! I got it. I felt it. It felt right. And I began looking into how realistic it would be to change my major. When I found out that I would NOT be making IT money as quickly or maybe even at all depending on the opportunities I'd get, I punked out and stuck to IT. It's a decision that I've grown to regret. It haunted me for YEARS because I knew deep in my soul that I'd made the wrong choice.

      1. I talked to my life coach about how I was feeling and she told me a story that closely resembles your post as well. She told me that God had given me grace in my current career for a purpose. But, now, He was removing that grace to push me to where he wants me to be now. I told her that I felt it was too late and too much to return to school. I'm not even done paying Sallie n'em what I owe them NOW! *hand to forehead* She instructed me to read the book, The Dream Giver, by Bruce Wilkenson. And, I'm telling you…its helping to bring clarity and confidence concerning the journey I need to take in order to get to wherever I'm going. Cause honestly, I don't know exactly where that is, lol. I just know that 1) I'm supposed to have a degree in Sociology and 2) ultimately, I will NOT be working a 9-5 type job.

        And with that, wish me luck…I start school May 6th! 🙂

        1. And then, just to tell you how GOOD GOD IS, they took ALL my academic credits, my Statistics and Intro. to Sociology credits, and I only have 11 classes till graduation.

          I graduate Spring '14. YAY!!!!!!

          I think I can handle one more year in IT, LOL.

        2. Awww, thank you! I sure will! 🙂

          Come next year, I'll be needing Slim's HR/job hunting tips! LOL!

  4. I really like this post. Success to me is defined by doing the things that contribute positviely to society and having a certain level of fullfillment in doing those things. I think that seperates a job from a career. A job is something you do to maintain your bills and etc. A career is something you are really passionate about, plus the added bonus you get paid doing it.
    I commend you for taking a break and actively figuring out what exactly you wanted to focus on based on your passions. Yeah, it was hard both financially and mentally, but it's called SACRIFICE. That's a word people don't realize is a key ingredient to acheiveing success.

  5. Sometimes we have to take a step or two backwards, to move 3 or 4 steps forward. I am writing this as someone who experienced the same thing to achieve my goals and I have never looked back. God always has a plan in place and you just have to eliminate fear and believe in your gut instincts. I tell people I ate PBJ's for two years straight because I quit my full time job to pursue my graduate degree from a top university. Now, it has paid more dividends than a little bit and while my career/job doesn't pay as if I went into another direction, the perks of my company, actually believing in my company's mission statement, and having a stress free life doing what I like, beats everything hands down.

    1. "Sometimes we have to take a step or two backwards, to move 3 or 4 steps forward. I am writing this as someone who experienced the same thing to achieve my goals and I have never looked back."

      So real right there. Glad to hear it worked out for you fam. Keep Going!

  6. [I’m not a boss. I’m not ballin, but I do wake up everyday excited to go to work and in the rare, indulgent moments where I allow myself to contemplate my future – I feel good about it.] << – 100! As long as I feel this every day, I know I'm on the right track. Congrats on the new baby btw!

    I've wrote on my personal site in great lengths about how I felt stuck and at 1 point, lost. I had lofty expectations when I left my cushy situation and when it went awry, it forced me to take a huge step back. Hell, writing got me through some dark spaces. Funny to say it, but reaching my 30s was the 1st time I really found the answer to what makes ME happy. Ever since I moved, I haven't once looked back. My professional life is where I want it to be and moving even opened up opportunities to explore passions that I didn't even know I had. Main lesson I've learned is when you're broken down, the choice to re-build is always yours. Daydreaming is fine. But too much of it takes away from you actually planning that big action that'll be the spark.

    Sidebar, I've searched all over for your e-book and couldn't find a working link. Can you post it?


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