When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out

Middle-aged, overweight, borderline diabetic, at risk of a heart attack, socially removed, man in a noose (tie) that makes six figures and barely remembers his child’s name, and we call that a success.

Find something wrong with this picture? Me too.

But since we often define our success by the collective voice, we accept that’s the price we must pay. Perhaps somewhere in the back of our skulls that little piece of conscience we have left quietly tells us it’s wrong. But for some odd reason, we rarely listen.

If that’s success, I don’t want it.

I’d like to tell you something you probably won’t hear very often, but will completely make all the difference in your life. 

If you never define what success means to you, you’ll never find contentment. If you’re not completely clear about what brings you joy, you’ll never find success. You’ll be chasing something that, in the end, really doesn’t matter. Success is meaningless if you can’t measure when, where and how you’ll feel fulfilled.

But defining what success means to you isn’t enough. Even if you’re really clear and honest about what makes you happy, it’s still easy to become swayed. That’s because it’s one thing to define, but it’s an entirely different thing to accept.

And accepting that your path is the only one that matters — that you no longer care about the mainstream view of success — takes guts. Not to mention scary as hell.

It takes courage to swim upstream and fight the current of conformity. It’s uncomfortable going against the grain and embracing your inner renegade.

If defining is only half the equation, accepting your path requires…

Dropping Out.

I’ll be the first to admit that dropping out isn’t easy. The law of averages and majority rules creates a lot of resistance. Simply put, it’s not easy being the minority. (Institutionalization and domestication doesn’t help much either.)

Not to mention, breaking habits instilled since birth is insanely difficult hard. Completely rerouting limiting circuitry takes time, sweat and a mental breakdown persistence.

All of these tiny self-defeating beliefs are like thorns in your authentic life. One or two might give you an annoying itch. More than that and your movement is compromised.

The fact is, most of the heart squelching distress in your life is caused by resisting what is. Trying to force yourself to do things you don’t really want to do. We think these commitments are obligations and necessities, but they’re really not. The intelligence of the herd is often not very intelligent (imagine that) and “collective wisdom” is often a big, fat collective assumption.

So if doing what works (what’s supposed to work, anyway) isn’t working, it’s time to hang up your hat.

It’s time to drop out from:

  • Caring more about how productive you are over how much you enjoy your day (ridiculous, but I struggle with this too).
  • Living by an anxiety machine a clock and a schedule.
  • Caring what other people think and basing your worth on outer acceptance.
  • Living from the outside in. Chasing money, status and ego-driven desires.
  • Seemingly required panels, boards, credentials, and expectations that come from society, your career, or yourself.

This list could go on and I’ve already clearly outlined much of what’s worth giving up here. What’s clear is that caring about stuff like this suffocates your dreams and drowns out the voice of your heart. Too much rigidity gets in the way of the beautiful and chaotic path of your heart.

Instead, maybe it’s time to:

  • Learn to listen to the call of your heart more than the call of clever marketers.
  • Get really clear about what success means to you and stop caring about what other people think.
  • Find joy and purpose not just in the achievement of your desires, but in the movement towards what makes you come alive.
  • Be incredibly disorganized and flaky. If obsession with perfection is taking up more time than the working on your dreams, it’s time to re-prioritize.
  • Move through life deliberately.

The point of removing all of what’s not working isn’t to create a vacuum. Engagement in noise-removal is about creating the space for your dreams to grow and take root in the world. Dropping out simply means pulling all the unauthentic weeds in your life.

So what you’ve got to do is…

Create a “To-Stop” List.

We spend ridiculous amounts of time contemplating what we should add to our lives. We search for the quintessential pair of jeans, the most lucrative business ventures and the perfect partner. But rarely do we take stock of what’s not working. We forget that just as it’s important to add, it’s equally important to subtract.

Since this is such an unusual exercise, here are a few questions to spark your mind:

  • What’s not working for you right now?
  • If there were no consequences (imagined or real) what would you stop doing?
  • What excuses do you regularly make that keep you from pursuing your dreams?
  • Do you require permission to be happy? Do you think doing things slowly or doing things you love is not practical? Is it working for you?

Once your list is looking complete, pick one limitation to work on. Don’t try to tackle everything at once, it doesn’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried. As much as I despise these self-limiting agreements, it takes time to break them. But realize that that’s all they are – agreements. You can choose to stop agreeing with them at any time.

You’ve just got to pull them out one at a time. If you try to grab too many, you’ll break them and won’t take out the root. Before long the weeds spring back up and all your efforts will be in vain.

It may take time before they’re completely broken and the weeds stop coming back, but that’s okay. The water that is too clean has no fish.

What all of this really comes down to is living deliberately. Going with yourself and the call of your heart. It takes removing the noise to hear that call.

After all, what would you do with a hot piece of coal in your hand? You’d drop it of course.

And that’s exactly what we must do with limitations.

We’ve got to drop out.

It may cause a psychotic episode be difficult, but I will tell you this: The price is worth the promise.

When your dreams are reclaimed, you won’t have any regrets.

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50 Comments on "When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out"

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Molly Hoyne


Okay, I hate when people post their own blogs in the comments, but seriously Jonathan– this is my theme for the year! Live deliberately.

I SO hear you.

Have you seen Revolutionary Road? It’s a great affirmation (though depressing movie) for those of us battling to live our own lives with our own measure of success.

I love what you’re doing here. Have been a subscriber for a while. Keep the inspiration coming!



Adam Steer - Better Is Better
A few years ago, I was doing one of the most coveted jobs in my industry. I was Director of a very prestigious ski school. It’s the kind of job that most ski instructors only dream about when starting out on their career. And at first I loved doing it, but then pressure and politics started to sour my dream job. The problem is, it took me way too long to admit to myself that I no longer loved my job – and that in fact it was weighing on me so heavily that it was affecting other areas of… Read more »

I was telling my therapist the same thing yesterday. For the first time in my life, I get to design my life as I see fit. It is hard to go against the status quo, but I’m ready to do it.


I love this post; it came at a perfect time for me too.

Absolutely loved the ebook as well! Please keep it coming :)

Nathalie Lussier

I love the idea of a to-stop list. I’ve personally decided not to go to the corporate route, and I think I’m still working through my “Stuff”. But I’m making progress, and that’s what matters. :)

I think your way of explaining these concepts really gets through to people.


I have a friend who keeps wondering when I’ll succeed at doing what I do. I’ve told him that I have partially succeeded. I love what I do, I’m happy doing it, and I’d do it for the pure enjoyment of it.

However I’d really love to be able to support myself doing what I love…………..:)

To me, that is total success.

Tom - IHeartWorship.com

“Find joy and purpose not just in the achievement of your desires, but in the movement towards what makes you come alive.”

I absolutely loved this point. So many people try to be what other want us to be, instead of chasing the things that make us really live – because that is true success!

Amanda Linehan

I love what you said about success not being the same for everyone. There is no such thing as “successful” if it’s not connected to your own definition of fulfillment. Trouble is – you’ve got to know what fulfills you. ;)


Hello Jonathan, Hello YOU too kind human Reader


Having a Ferrari, I do not want that…
Having an impact, just like you, I work on that… :)
Accepting who I am and BE present, here and now, THAT is success! I want that so much!!!! :)

I have written a short story, feel free to read it…
I am not a native English speaker/writer but I believe there is a lot of substance related to YOUR story.


J.D. Meier

I guess a way to put it is, if the path to success isn’t working, it’s not the path to success.

I agree on getting results, which means some sort of measurable difference. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you quantify on a scale, and the real success is often progressive little increments that you only notice through extreme sensory acuity. That’s why I’m a fan of NLP. Outcomes and sensory acuity are baked in.

Finding joy “in the movement toward what makes you come alive” is so vital. I have felt helpless for months, thinking that my current situation in life left me with few options. But instead of seeing these obstacles as insurmountable, I found it necessary to come up with a plan, because the bottom line is, no one is putting a gun to my head here. I am currently a graduate student, and I plan on applying for an Assistantship that would begin in August. This position would require me to quit any other job (yay!) and I’d get to teach… Read more »
Hunter Nuttall

The guy you described in the beginning is who Tim Ferriss called the fat bald man in the red BMW. Tim decided he didn’t want that, even though he was “supposed” to.

I agree that success is pointless (or even worse) when the version of success we’re pursuing is not meaningful to us.

Right on! I couldn’t agree with u more johnathan. I too have recently decided to drop the status quo and follow my own path. It took some time for Me to realize how I wanted to shape my life. When I look back at 99 yrs old I want to have travelled the world and experienced everything life offers. So I’m putting my stuff in storage and leaving in may to travel and teach abroad. It took me years of hard work in the dance and Pilates industry to get to this point, but I knew what I wanted all… Read more »
Hope Flanagan

How do you deal with parental expectations of success when you want to go down one path and they’re angry because they think it’ll make you a failure?


Yes! I’m subtracting a lot right now, and switching gears just when my star is rapidly rising. No regrets, and I’ll be better for it in the end. :)

Melanie Thomassian

What a fantastic post!

How many of us run after someone elses’ dream, without ever stopping to think if it’s right for us?!

Like everyone else, I want to be successful at what I do, but not at the expense of ‘life contentment’.



[…] don’t have to drop out and becoming a complete raw foodist right away. Any increase in raw foods in your diet will give […]


[…] don’t have to drop out and becoming a complete raw foodist right away. Any increase in raw foods in your diet will give […]

Wow! Thank you for this post. So uplifting & true. I have always believed in just being myself even when society says no. It started when I was the only black girl in my class who liked Techno and I was teased for it. Fast forward many years later, I had the courage to leave a stable job that was killing my soul and launch into a new life & self directed career in a new country, I had the courage to learn how to swim & ride a bike at age 26 then complete an Olympic Triathlon within a… Read more »
Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching

Thanks for this post. One exercise I did along these lines was to go off into the woods with minimal equipment and stay for the night. When I got back into “the real world” after that, I had a fresh perspective on the choices I was making in my life. It was hard to remember that I chose my car, friends, computer, and so on until I spent some quality time away from them in a place where temporarily none of it mattered.

David S.

Dropping several activities in the last year that weren’t feeding my soul gave me time to start drawing, and I’m really enjoying learning something for myself for a change! “Dropping out” selectively is great advice, and if you do it quietly at first (around your friends and relatives), it makes the transition a little easier.


It helps to have supporters too. (Like this blog – and there are others too – and perhaps f2f friends.)

It is usually possible to have a friendly divorce from parental expectations Hope. If they care for you and aren’t just wanting you to fulfil their dreams then there is usually wriggle room. Trust this makes sense.

Marc and Angel Hack Life

I love it! Stumbled.


[…] What happens when success becomes meaningless? Its time to drop out. […]


Intelligent article. I know what you mean. It’s a challenge fighting the status quo. When I say or do things people believe it’s impossible. Too many people are stuck in routine and myths. I want to live my own life and not follow everyone else. This world is full of followers. I know I’ll fail if I follow the herd. It’s not easy but it’s eay to be tempted to follow.


P.S. Pick up the four hour work week. A brilliant book.

Leisa Watkins | Wealth Wisdom & Success

Fantastic post!

And I love all the comments from people who are reinventing their life, and dropping what isn’t working for them. I think it’s wise to continually ask ourselves this valuable questions: “Is this what I really want?” & “Is this what I Still Want?”


Most people work all of their lives to enjoy life. Maybe if we spent a little of that energy working enjoying where we are then there would be no rush to retire and we could all just go on enjoying life.


[…] don’t have to drop out and becoming a complete raw foodist right away. Any increase in raw foods in your diet will give […]


[…] When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out […]


[…] When Success Becomes Meaningless It’s Time to Drop Out Johnathan talks about how defining what success means to you is important to truly experience […]


its all about finding the right balance between working while having fun


I am from china.Now,money is considered the most important thing in our life.All in mind is money,money,money.I wish more chinese people can read your articles and find which is the real dream.


Sorry to say most missed the point


[…] When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out It’s time to drop out from: […]


[…] When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out […]


[…] as Jonathan Mead recently wrote on his Illuminated Mind blog, create a To-Stop list to counterbalance all your To-Do lists. Remove, declutter and lighten up a […]


[…] as Jonathan Mead recently wrote on his Illuminated Mind blog, create a To-Stop list to counterbalance all your To-Do lists. Remove, declutter and lighten up a […]


I think I need the opposite of your article. I need some organisation, some structure and some aims and most of all I need money. I follow my dreams but I’m poor and it’s hard to do anything without money in this world.


[…] ???????? ??????: When Success Becomes Meaningless, It’s Time to Drop Out […]

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Sorry to say most missed the point

Anna Westphal
I want to drop out of life. My boy’s God bless them have a good head on their shoulders and are doing well. Still struggling with their faith which I have full faith in Christ they will work through. I am 48 and have been divorced twice. The second marriage was a nightmare. In the beginning we both had goals for our families in mind. During the course of 6 yrs he switched jobs 7 times. I, trusting he was given a bad wrap in life, paid over 40,000 dollars he had in debt. While married, he charged everything he… Read more »

[…] don’t have to drop out and becoming a complete raw foodist right away. Any increase in raw foods in your diet will give […]

Well I am here searching for answers. society feels like a big fat lie to me and an illusion. first off I have already dropped out of society. not by choice but by force. when you are chronically ill that happens. I was studying to be a physician assistant when I got rheumatoid. then came sjogren’s then came lupus nephritis, then kidney failure. so society doesn’t need me anymore but I have been struggling to prove I am still worthy. so today ia m searching for web sites that show me how to survive out of society. my dreams and… Read more »
First of all, those of us who are stumbling through life and finally discovering that “success” sounds more like punishment (anxiety, stress, time spent with people you have to rather than the people you want to, killing your real self and replacing it with the self you think others want to see- all in exchange for money you have no time to enjoy), should all come up with a secret sign. Like “Fight Club” without the violence. I loved this article… My story is that I was born with severe attention deficit, but was of the age when it wasn’t… Read more »
Jack C.

Unless you enjoy being homeless and broke, you can’t “drop out” into nothing, which is the general state that term implies. I think “reinvent” is a more pragmatic term.

I just typed into google ‘I want to drop out’ while taking a break from making notes from a law lecture. I’m at university because it’s the expected thing to do.The simplest way to somehow get a job. Well that’s how it seemed. I’m really not enjoying this degree and everyday I feel the urge to drop out is stronger. I would drop out but I have no plans. What happens next? Education is extremely important in my family, and I also believe it is but it just isn’t for me!! I’m just worried about the questions and comments I… Read more »
Mountain Man

There is no such thing as the “law of averages”. Look it up!

I do not see paving your own way as “going against the status quo” at all. After 10 years of teaching, 6 in other people’s start-ups and 2 in corporate, I found myself nearly 40 years old and unfulfilled. Everything in my being yelled “STOP” one day. I had been hired by a major corporation to offer my expertise in language and culture for international sales efforts. My superiors chose to remain woefully ignorant blocked my every attempt to offer some expertise that would have helped the team. There is nothing sadder than a scared, ignorant person…. or nothing more… Read more »
Great post and I agree with most of what you said. I personally believe that true success must always be an individual thing that is highly personal and not exactly the same thing for everybody. But society has a way of trying to herd everyone through the same chutes and into the same limited ideas of what success is – and all through life from birth to death the ever present societal conditioning continues. Comply and stay with the herd or face all manner of pressure to become reassimilated. My personal belief is that the best course of action is… Read more »
Wasn’t expecting to happen upon this today, it’s as true as it is complicated. In my case, well I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve experienced firsthand the true nature of the hive-mind throughout Western societies. Try breaking an unspoken rule, which by the way no one is given a handbook at birth. Instinctively, if someone questions the status quo, be prepared to lose people you thought you knew. There will be mockery, ridicule, cruelty, possible physical violence, personal attacks and insults, slander, invasion of privacy, no common decency or conscience. Not only can you lose family and… Read more »

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