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My nephew moved to Vail, Colorado, four or five years ago after visiting the area with his father to ski/snowboard and hangout with an old high school buddy who now owns and operates a chain of t-shirt shops in Colorado.

My nephew loved it there and the friend offered him a job. With nothing much happening for him in Erie and having tried and given up on college twice, he decided to take the friend up on his offer. He packed up his stuff and drove 1,500 miles away from home.

He has come back to Pennsylvania a few times since then, but just to visit. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that he’s never moving back to Erie. He’s living the good life in Vail, making enough money for him, snowboarding, hanging with his friends.

Last week, he turned 30 years old and opened his door at 10:30 p.m. on the night before his birthday to find six family members—his mom, dad, sister, niece, grandma, and aunt Heather—from Erie standing on his porch.

I’m not sure he could’ve been more shocked. I mean…this face:



We got to spend the next few days with him, exploring Vail and just hanging out. He had  Friday and Saturday off (his boss was in the surprise — in fact, we stayed at his house because he and his wife were in Florida).

At 30, my nephew doesn’t have a college degree, a house, a wife, or kids, nor does he have plans to acquire any of them. He hasn’t checked any of those boxes that society tells us we have to check off to be successful and happy, and I couldn’t be more proud of him for seeing that farce for what it is.

So many of us climb that ladder to the “American Dream” life, doing the next thing society expects of us at the right stage of life:

Degree. Check.

Spouse. Check.

Career. Check.

Starter home. Check.

Kids. Check.

Bigger house. Check.

Nice cars. Check.

401K plan. Check.

But the thing is, though nobody wants to say it or admit it, none of that shit makes most of us happy in the long term. I mean, sure, it all does at the beginning. New love makes you giddy. Buying or building a house is exciting and it’s fun to decorate. Babies are super cute. Nice cars and big paychecks make you feel special and important.

But no matter how much you love your spouse, marriage is hard (really, really hard). Babies turn into toddlers and tweens and teens. That big house just ends up being a big burden to clean and pay for and maintain. Ditto for the cars you worry will get wrecked in one way or another.

Maybe that’s why so many of us are miserable, stressed-out, short-tempered, and anxious today.  We did all the right things — we checked all the right boxes and, yet, happiness (real inner joy) eludes the vast majority of us.

We should’ve listened to Sting — he was calling B.S. on all this way back in 1983:

Whether it was intentional or not, I’m proud of my nephew for rejecting society’s bullshit steps to success, and for having the courage to do life on his terms.

I think building a life that makes you happy (instead of crafting one to please everybody else), is a true measure of success.


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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.