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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Comment & Add Your Voice

Molly Hoyne January 27, 2009 at 6:01 pm


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 January 27, 2009 at 6:16 pm

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 my life.

Finally, I figured it out and put it on my “to-stop” list – and I did (stop that is). I finally quit and redirected my entire career, going back to what I really love. Now I am living a very fulfilling life as a trainer and a ski coach of hand picked and exciting clients.

I think a lot of people are hesitant to leave behind what they perceive as a “sunk cost.” But what I now realize is that the years I invested in that job have borne fruit in many skills which I apply to my new businesses and services.

Now, if I could just stop dickering around and wasting so much time on the internet! :)



Tracy January 27, 2009 at 7:25 pm

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.


Pearl January 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

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 January 27, 2009 at 8:39 pm

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.


LisaNewton January 27, 2009 at 9:00 pm

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 January 27, 2009 at 10:36 pm

“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 January 28, 2009 at 6:51 am

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. ;)


Ioan January 28, 2009 at 7:29 am

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 January 28, 2009 at 8:10 am

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.


Marisa January 28, 2009 at 8:38 am

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 a little (which is great since I want to be a professor) and live much more intimately in the academic world. In order to leave my current job if and when this position becomes available to me, I was able to present a report to my supervisors outlining a plan that would allow me to finish all of my big projects by July 1, at which time they can either hire a part time person or hire me instead as an independent contractor.

To make a long story short, I basically decided it was time to stop letting “the money problem” interfere with my dreams and goals, and instead, implement a well thought out and acceptable plan that will work for all parties involved. Ultimately, if I don’t get the Assistantship, I will still have the opportunity to work independently and thus be freed from the chain that binds me to my desk 40+ hours/week.


Hunter Nuttall January 28, 2009 at 9:00 am

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.


Amber January 28, 2009 at 9:45 am

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 along. To be a travelling gypsy doing what I love. I sound like a broken record, but we only live once.


Hope Flanagan January 28, 2009 at 10:29 am

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?


deepali January 28, 2009 at 8:47 pm

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 January 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm

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’.



Ren January 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm

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 year. I can do anything I set my mind to and as long as I am on board, that’s all that matters. The energy & drive is within me & I define my own success I create my own conventions. The world is my oyster.

It’s beautiful to read your blog and know that there are others who go against norms in order to thrive & create the best lives for themselves. Thank you for sharing!


Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching January 29, 2009 at 11:51 pm

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. January 30, 2009 at 7:51 am

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.


Evan January 30, 2009 at 1:47 pm

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 January 31, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I love it! Stumbled.


Omar February 2, 2009 at 9:05 am

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 February 4, 2009 at 8:46 am

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?”


Kathryn February 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm

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.


farouk February 27, 2009 at 4:32 am

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


komo March 16, 2009 at 1:37 am

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.


Roger March 21, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Sorry to say most missed the point


Pete February 5, 2010 at 9:53 pm

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.


hermes handbags July 8, 2010 at 1:46 am

Sorry to say most missed the point


Anna Westphal March 30, 2011 at 8:36 am

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 felt he needed knowing it wasn’t him that was paying. Needless to say, beside this, the most important hit was he began drinking and was abusive motivating neighbors to call. I guess what I am saying is, I have a wonderful job, am away from a bad relationship and have financially gotten back on my feet. Why do I feel I want to drop out. The demands of a job I actually love weighs me down. I am online part-time on the weekends and log back in when I get home as some of my teamr work a different schedule. I am spent. My mother passed when I was nine and we were transferred to a Christian school. In the long run that was the best thing that could have happened. Initially, because we were worried about my Dad as he drank heavily after this, me and my siblings felt out of place and afraid to go back to school. I think that mentality hasn’t left me. Stupid and I am an adult now but feel like that kid wanting out.


ladyhawk11 September 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm

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 goals can never happen the traditional way with illness taking over my body. I don’t want much I just want to live before I die. all of this started at age 30. I have been ill for 20 years. married and bereaved parent.


Charlie July 19, 2015 at 1:20 pm

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 commonly recognized yet. Particularly in adults. I am very smart, but not in a linear way. Now, in my late 30’s I have spent most of my life trying to mimic what I thought were “normal”people and ending up with severe bouts of depression for my troubles.

So, I am letting go. Instead of fighting myself, I am finally realizing that I have SO much more to offer than as a buttoned-down office monkey hoping someone else will notice me and pay me compliments. I think we all do. We live and work as we do from habit and mental laziness, not because it makes sense. (I mean, the “typical workday” is 8-5 because those are the hours our peasant forefathers kept).

As Lord Admiral Nelson said, “Damn the maneuvers. Go right at them!”. Anybody with me!?! <<insert John Belushi "Pearl Harbor" speech from Animal House here.

And remember: be kind to people:)


Jack C. September 20, 2015 at 1:42 am

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.


Amina December 4, 2015 at 7:11 am

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 will be bombarded with by my family “she was probably too dumb” “what are your plans??” “she was failing a moduke for sure”
You are right. I shouldn’t be a people pleaser and that includes my family. This will be hard but I’m glad I found this. I’m not giving up, I’m simply finding a new path.


Mountain Man August 23, 2016 at 7:27 am

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


Justin August 29, 2016 at 3:15 am

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 dangerous for growth of revenue and team morale. ONE idiot’s fragile ego can upset a whole ecosystem of events.

As soon as I realized what was going on I told my wife that I was resigning.

That was 4 months ago.

I now work from home and have major universities, major retailers, and large government entities as clients. I did more for myself and my family in 16 weeks than I did for that company in a year.

You hit a certain age and you can’t pull punches anymore.

Corporate America is horrible. It’s a vast desert of mediocrity. The common worker isn’t trying to achieve. He’s trying to survive. Truth offends them. People doing better than then offends them. Hard work offends them. I heard less bitching from my former middle school students about work than I did out of most adults in corporate America. It’s pathetic.

I didn’t say “f**k you” to the status quo. I just got clear on what I really wanted. And once I did that, within 4 mon the came money, fun, success, and there is more on the way.

Wanna stop sufferingetting?

Be honest about what you wanthink.

Be brave and do what their is to be done. Need to quit your 9 to 5? Do it. Got kids at home? So does pretty much everyone else who quit corporate America, so stop sniveling and just cut the cord. Don’t have enough savings? Welcome to 21st century life. Most people, even ones who drive Mercedes and live in big house are not flush with cash. It takes lots of fuel to keep the fires stoked these days. Don’t use the money excuse. You sound like a wimp. Last one… time. “I don’t have enough time!” Ahhh…. the Swan song of the unfulfilleday cry babies of America. You have Internet, smart phones, laptops, and all that. Einstein, Edison, the Wright brothers…. yeah they didn’t have any of those advantages. So, again… Stop whining and find a way.

If you don’t, guess what?

Your probable, almost-certain future is to sit in traffic for 2-3 hours per day, work with people you don’t like doing something you hate for increasingly lower and lower pay while dealing with idiotic policies and politics, having to ask permission to take a day off if you’re sick or even God forbid just wanna have a good time…

If that’s working for you…. more power to you. Keep it up.

If not, the STOP right now. Stop directing your energy to anything your heart and soul is not into and make a change.

Our time on this earth is limited. Don’t waste it around people you dislike doing things you hate. Not when there are 7 billion people and so many things to do, problems to solve, and miles to go before we sleep.

Working for yourself is a much more crooked path but I can guaran-damn-tee you it’s waaaaayyyyyy more fulfilling in the long run.

No one can do it for you. No one is going to do it for you. In the end, the regrets will be yours and yours alone.

Good luck on your journey.


L.D.Sewell September 17, 2016 at 9:18 am

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 to drop out of those aspects of our society and what it considers to be normal that limit and indenture us – while utilizing all other aspects that advance our lives toward what ever our own idea of happiness is.

That means ditching rampant consumerism and to adopt a debt free living philosophy – never buy anything on credit or incur any new voluntary debt of any kind at all for the remainder of life – while at the same time eliminating all existing debts as quickly as can be done.

It means to stop paying rent or mortgage payments ever again (really) – which can be done by choosing to become voluntarily houseless at least temporarily and instead of paying rent or mortgage payments living in or aboard what ever you can afford to really own (completely paid for in full) right now. Then continuing to do that until you can really afford to buy, build or have built something more to your liking.

By doing these things – anyone who wants to do so can work as they were before – but instead of being a rat on a wheel making lenders and other parasites richer at their won expense – now they can utilize that income to make better lives for themselves and those they care most about.

Now income is far in excess of what is needed just to survive and it can be used to reposition themselves into a completely different life in a short period of time – what ever that may be.

Just my two cents anyway…

In the end we all have to either go along with the herd or choose our own different paths to follow.


ARNK October 9, 2017 at 10:09 pm

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 friends, but your job, possible future employment opportunities and again, your privacy to name a few.

Some ways around this. Be independently wealthy, be a celebrity, own a business, be a scientist, be a professor, be an expert, be a politician.

Otherwise, you have to be a fake user – a horrible situation – most use people by acting like a friend until they make it, then they drop them or continue the facade to maintain the appearance of being genuine.

Worst of all, by ostracizing you from the corporate system, they take away your ability to give back to the community and help others in the future. They abuse their power and influence to break you instead of helping you. Where helping simply means not plotting against you and setting you up to fail, that’s all that helping means.

So are ready to walk through the dust?


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