The non-linear path to success: 8 lessons you won’t learn at school

When I finished school, I still felt like I knew nothing about how to live my life. 

I didn’t know where I was heading, how to apply my skills, or how to become ‘successful’ without giving up on everything that made me, me. 

You know what didn’t help? That every conventional model of “success” I saw required me to do things I couldn’t fathom doing for the next 50 years. 

I didn’t know much, but I knew that I’d rather be happy than trade my joy in pursuit of money. 

Then I learned that I could carve my own path, with my own idea of success.

Now, my version of success may not be yours. But if you can relate to wanting to live a life of substance, creativity, connection, and meaning; it can be a struggle to figure out your place in a world that is driven by profit. 

My journey brought me through many mistakes and valuable lessons. All have led me to this priceless point of inner peace, a deep contentment with who I am, and who I’m becoming more of. That is a success to me!

I’d like to share these 8 priceless insights and lessons I gained on my journey with you.

1) If you want to be happy, let go of the need to ‘fit in’

In my experience, the majority of society is far from happy.

Yet I wonder, why do so many people spend time and money trying to fit in with other people who appear to have everything on the outside, but are also unhappy?

Prescription medication and suicide rates are on the increase. Oftentimes, it is because people feel they can’t keep up with the expectations on their shoulders. 

These expectations from other people, from society, and from the media, are so easy to internalize and make ourselves feel bad if we don’t meet them. 

So I urge you to let go of this need to fit in, in any way. Instead, do what brings you joy.

By letting go of:

  • External pressures to have certain things
  • “Acceptable” ways of being, dressing, living, speaking
  • Things you “should” do by so-and-so age
  • Made-up beauty standards
  • Comparisons to other people

You can begin to plant the seed of genuine happiness. 

Dig in and ask yourself what you really want. Maybe it’s to be able to wear bright colors that don’t match. Maybe it’s to paint more. Maybe it’s to be around more animals. 

When we tune into our desires, they are often very simple. 

Yes, you could have a big vision and a yearning to change the world, but going about it in a sustainable, enjoyable, and lasting way begins with listening to these little desires. 

2) Wisdom can’t be taught, only experienced

Every insight and nugget of wisdom I’ve encountered could have been told to me in a setting like school, but I wouldn’t have heard or understood it until I experienced it firsthand.

Even if I spent countless hours listening to audiobooks, podcasts, reading self-development books, or talking with other people. 

No intellectual knowledge beats going out there and trying something. Maybe you’ll fail, but that’s the greatest lesson and potential growth you can find. 

Every experience, good or bad, that you have along your life journey holds value in the form of wisdom. Yes, every single experience. 

But only when you start to value it.

If you dismiss an experience as mundane, or horrible, and something you never want to think about again, you are dismissing the value in insights and deeper understanding that is being offered to you. 

Try to find gratitude for every experience that comes your way, and gradually the experiences that come your way will become better, more interesting, and more enjoyable. 

3) Emotional pain is useful when it’s not avoided

The pain of failure, guilt, rejection, loss, or humiliation are all valuable tools you can work with. 

Pain also goes hand in hand with fear, as pain can often cause us to be in a fearful state if we don’t process it. 

So if you notice pain, try to observe it, sit with it, and understand it. Inquire into the source of it, and what it wants. 

There are many tools you can use to do this like working with a coach, or therapist, or starting by simply becoming comfortable with it and watching it. 

These kinds of emotional explorations hold amazing growth and will help your ability to let go of repressed hurt, navigate emotions in the future, and stop being hindered by your fears. 

That’s a huge key to anyone’s success.

This only happens by realizing that pain and fear are okay, rather than trying to reject or suppress them – which don’t actually make them go away.

3) Your mindset creates your reality, but your reality also creates your mindset

The human mind is truly amazing. It can create any reality it wants. 

If you believe in your suffering, you will continue to suffer. If you believe in your ability to create joy from nothing, you really can do that. 

But here’s the kicker:

When you have a mental insight, you have to use it to change your reality, even in a small way. 

This small shift in your reality will help feed back into bettering your mindset some more. 

This is the magic cycle that leads to lasting change. Consistent small insights that lead to making small changes in your reality will create that momentum to get you to where you want.

4) Being flexible to change will save you a lot of suffering

signs your self confidence is growing stronger 1 1 The non-linear path to success: 8 lessons you won’t learn at school

Never hold on to anything so tightly that you feel like you couldn’t live without it. 

Life will hit you with change after change, many that you will never see coming. 

And sometimes, life challenges you to make those difficult changes for your own growth and well-being. Letting go of a few friends, jobs, situations, or even family members that aren’t good for your well-being may be painful but a part of that.

Loss is part of the natural order. Every creature experiences cycles of loss and rebirth.

Remember when you’re going through this, to trust in the space being created space for new opportunities, experiences, people, and wisdom to come into your life. 

5) Define success for yourself

Have you ever asked yourself what success means for you?

Many people might not realize that success for them doesn’t look anything like the mainstream definitions of it. 

They were told at one point in life that success means having a certain type of car, house, job, income stream, or body – and they don’t question beyond it. 

If you don’t know how to do this, ask yourself when you are at the end of your life, how do you want to feel? Who or what do you want to see around you?

What would make you feel “ready” to go?

These can be intense questions to face, but they can often reveal a lot about your true desires and ideas of success. 

6) Most people will only believe in you as much as you believe in you

I felt quite empowered when I realized that my success is literally shaped by how much I like, trust, and believe in myself.

When you don’t believe in yourself, even if you’re good at covering it up, people can feel it. 

The inspiration and momentum that comes from someone who truly believes in themselves is immensely powerful. 

That’s why some people can literally sell their farts online for $1000 and somebody out there would buy it – they believed in themselves enough to do it. 

Or, think of a comedian telling jokes, but there’s a hint of insecurity about whether they’re funny. 

Now – think of them telling the same jokes, but in a confident way that suggests they believe they’re funny, even if others don’t. The difference is palpable!

However, many of us are plagued by fear of judgment, fear of failure, and self-doubt, and it prevents us from daring to do things we really want to do. 

But once you stop letting those fears get in the way, and work on believing in yourself, your purpose, and your message, you may be surprised at how on board others will be. 

Not everyone will – some people might get triggered by it and go away, and that’s fine- but others will be magnetized to you in a way you’ve never known. 

So don’t wait for anyone’s approval, not even those closest to you. You hold every ounce of permission, confidence, and ability that you need.

7) Your well-being is always your compass

If a job, situation, or person feels like it’s having a negative influence on your well-being, keeping it in your life will poison other areas of your life in the long term.

If everything seems perfect on the outside, but inside you feel unhappy or depressed, there is probably an illusion you’re holding on to around what you value. 

Be okay with questioning the things you tell yourself if you’re feeling a different way. Feelings often say more than thoughts do. 

This is what some people might call your intuition – it’s really a desire to feel as good, as expansive, and much as ourselves as possible. 

Trust it to be your guide!

Final thoughts:

So as you navigate your unique journey, remember to prioritize joy, embrace wisdom in every experience, and don’t judge or reject your own emotional pain. 

Your mindset has the power to shape your reality, and flexibility is your ally in times of change. Define success on your terms, learn to truly believe in yourself, and let your well-being be your guiding light.

In doing so, you’ll not only walk a non-linear path to success but also discover the profound beauty of your journey. 

Your journey will surely bring more insights than these 7 lessons I’ve shared. There aren’t enough words in an article to cover them all!

Just make sure you treasure them when they come. They are magnificent little pieces of the puzzle to complete your unique vision of success.

Picture of Shela Riva

Shela Riva

Shela Riva is a Thai-Swiss freelance writer, artist, energy mentor and co-creator of Jaiyen Eco Resort, a creative retreat space in Thailand. She is deeply passionate about our incredible ability to transform and is dedicated to helping each person realize the power within themselves, whether through her writing, empowering custom art pieces, one-on-one work or in-person retreats.

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