Lesson 13: Defining My Success


I can create the life I want to live. My life can look different from other people’s. It took a while for me to be O.K. with that because the blinders I wore conditioned me to respect status, occupation, money, achievement, and education.

In my early 20’s, my personal dream was to be a trauma doctor with Doctors without Borders, accomplished academically and professionally, made tons of money, and flew all over the world at the front lines of disaster relief – smart, beautiful, and kind.

Even while I struggled with various addictions and spiritual seeking, I

Doctors without Borders, source

held tight to this dream of mine, it was the one consistency through all the turbulence. Perhaps too tight. After all the preparation and studying, I never did take the MCAT exam. 


When I made the choice to not take the exam, was when I was launched into a quarter life crisis. Twenty six years old and back at the drawing board sounded awfully daunting at the time. 

Since I was no longer applying for medical school, my identity as an ambitious, smart, young woman was threatened. Furthermore, my conditioning made it so hard for me to accept that success could look different from Annette Kim, M.D. What’s a girl to do? Well, I decided to travel and see what other people do who aren’t living in New England, U.S.A.! 

New Learnings

It was across the globe where I met kids my age who weren’t sweating and running in the rat race of standard “achievement and accomplishments”. Some were nearly on the other end of the spectrum. 

One face in particular stands out to me, a soulful beach boy from South America who strummed his ukulele while murmuring, “I’m so bored, I could die,” while the sun set on

Tropical Beach Sunset, source

the tropical horizon. The bootstrappin’ American in me was horrified at the lackadaisical attitude of a young man his age. He should be working! Doing something with his life! 

Others were running by the beat of their own drum. They were forging their own path and they were uniquely successful. 

It wasn’t like an M.D. or J.D. degree, which in some ways is like a “prescription” for success. Study this material here in exchange for this credential, which certifies you to charge $x/hour for your consultation and guarantees a life of comfort in the upper echelons of society. 

In fact, there is a whole world full of people who have very different ideas of success. Some people from other countries can’t fathom the work-worship of Americans! And here I was, thinking that’s just Normal. Mind blown. 

Dueling Duality

Duality – source

In my 20’s, there was a duality in me: one side was a fangirl of status, class, and luxury that certain achievements and accolades would

afford me and the other was a wild woman artist and creative, pulsing on the subversive side of life, living uniquely, authentically, and passionately. This Virginia Woolf quote sums this up the best:

“Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side all is correct, definite, orderly; the paths are straight, the trees regular, the sun shaded; escorted by gentlemen, protected by policemen, wedded and buried by clergymen, she has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head. But on the other side all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course. The paths wind between bogs and precipices; the trees roar and rock and fall in ruin.”

Recognizing these opposing forces, I knew the latter was in my heart, but still a part of me craved the former and that was what confused me the most. 

Coincidentally, while this was happening, I also made my list of values and was beginning to live in accordance with them. And I observed that not academics, money, nor status made an appearance on the list.

You see, I was taught what to want and never did I stop think – do I actually want this? What will really make me happy? What do I really value? Just this noticing, was enough for me to begin to shed that conditioning that kept me bound to this life I should be living. It was liberating to find that I can choose my life for myself, a life different from how others think I should live. Others? Who? 

And another layer of the onion peels away.

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