We all feel the pressure to be successful – this is how travel helped me through
The pressure is real and we all feel it in one form or another… this strong expectation to be the best, embrace every opportunity – and ultimately be happy while doing it all. Here, we catch up with creative director and Contiki ambassador Timothy Hoang to talk about how he navigates the ongoing pressure to be successful and how travel can be a therapeutic way to deal with stress and improve your mental health…
How do you define success?
Whenever I ask anyone this question, the overwhelming response is that people just want to feel happy and proud of what they’re doing. For me, the ultimate success is being happy no matter who you are or what you do.
One thing I will add is that success is a continuous journey. Being happy and maintaining that happiness is extremely difficult – success has its ups and downs. Whether you’re in a high place or low place – it’s about checking in with yourself. Are you content? Are you grateful for the life you have? If the answer is yes, then in my opinion, you’ve reached a place of personal success.
What are the pressures of the creative industry you work in?
Being a content creator and always having to get my work validated online comes with huge pressure. Recently, in all honesty, it has drained me. You look to other content creators for inspiration but you’re also seeking external validation and it takes a toll, especially mentally.
There are times where I’ve created good work but if it isn’t validated on social media then I’ve ended up feeling empty. The industry I’m in can really play with your mind. There have even been times where I’ve cared more about a stranger’s opinion than my best friend or girlfriend’s! And I think that’s extremely unhealthy for your mental wellbeing. It means that success to you is dictated by other people rather than yourself – you’re handing over the power.
I’m lucky enough to receive praise from my peers, it’s just sometimes that I feel like I can’t do enough. I think this feeling stems from how our society is built. We’re constantly striving for more.
Where do you think all this pressure comes from?
As the first-born son in an Asian American family, I’ve always felt a lot of pressure. Since I was an only child, attention was hard to come by sometimes when both were working to survive. I had to learn to fend for myself at an early age – like when I would have to wait hours in school alone, waiting for one of my parents to get off work. I think this has made it difficult for me to justify failure – whether that’s in business or life.
My female cousins feel a lot of pressure too. This might stem from us being first-generation US immigrants. Essentially, my parents escaped from a war-torn country to give us a better life and stability.
In the US, given my own experience as a young male, I believe there are systems in place that perpetuate that pressure to achieve. We’re rewarded for our financial successes and are taught to look up to people who are rich.
Success to me is being loved for who I am rather than what I do. I could be the richest and most successful person financially but still feel empty inside. I don’t want to be measured by a number, whether money or material items. My journey to being successful is to love myself.
“Success isn’t a number or status – for me it’s about how happy I am with myself”
What effect do you think the ‘side hustle’ culture has on our career goals?
I have really mixed feelings about this. I have a startup and a side hustle. But I really hate the way we glorify how busy we are – ‘grind is life’, ‘#alwaysworking’, ‘sleep when you’re dead’. This attitude can amplify our insecurities and make us worry that we’re not achieving greatness quick enough. To be honest, this way of living really only leads to burn out, which I’ve experienced. We all need to remember that success is more of a marathon than a sprint.
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Can social media perpetuate our insecurities?
Social media has some big pros and cons. Firstly, it can be a huge positive for travel content. You can share experiences and motivate and inspire others to do similar life-changing experiences. It brings the world closer to home.
It can also be a driver for making us feel insecure, I’ve definitely experienced feelings of FOMO and can’t help but compare myself to others. If you don’t have a positive view on yourself, your social feed can have a negative impact – whether that’s via harmful words or unrealistic images of people living the ‘perfect life’. It’s important to remember that whatever you’re viewing on social media, you’re only seeing a small sliver of someone’s life. Even people who post the most happy and positive posts could be feeling something completely different in real life. I have such a love/hate relationship with it!
My advice is to try and stop comparing yourself with what you see on social media – there’s always more to the story. And fill your feed with people who make you feel positive, inspired or challenged.
How does travel help to relieve some of the pressure for you?
Travel is a healthy way to get some perspective on your problems. It’s a great way to change your scenery and hit that reset button. If you find yourself laser-focused on success or work, immersing yourself in a different culture or learning a new language can stimulate your mind in a completely different way.
If it hadn’t been for an amazing eye-opening travel experience a few years ago, I wouldn’t have gained such a different perspective. Back in 2017, I had the opportunity to visit my ancestral homeland in the countryside of Vietnam for a few weeks. At first, it was a culture shock. I’m so used to hot water and wifi! But eventually, I settled completely into it – embracing the fact that I was in a village, sitting on top of a rice farm in the jungle, completely off the grid.
I felt that there was something really weird about the people I was staying with and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I realized the reason was they were the happiest, nicest people I’d ever met. Kids were playing soccer barefoot outside, people were wearing the same clothes they always had and… they were super content.
The local community knew that I wasn’t used to the food, so a friendly person walked to the nearest village and got me packaged food. They always made sure I had hot water to drink because I couldn’t drink the regular water. They made sure I was accommodated first, knowing that I was an outsider.
My time in Vietnam made me want to share the experience with everyone when I got back home – how can I make people feel the things I did while away? Because of that, I was able to approach my business in a different way too, prioritizing substance over style.
Where’s your favorite place to travel when you need to de-stress?
I love going to big cities. New York is my favorite city of all time because there’s so much to do. I also love Rome, I could be there for 2 years and still only touch 5% of the entire city. The opportunity to learn is a big de-stressor for me. I love learning languages and living like a local. Back home, I’m so focused on my own endeavors that I can sometimes forget to do basic things like connect with other people! So when I give myself permission just connect with new people and experience different cultures, I can just relax and enjoy.
What would your advice be to other young men feeling the pressure to be successful?
Slow the hell down. There’s absolutely no rush – some successful people don’t achieve the recognition or validation until they are much older. The fable about the tortoise and the hare is so damn true, slow and steady really does win the race. I’d say stop comparing yourself, stop doubting yourself, stop doubting other people and start connecting with others and be open to change.
All of this is easier is said than done. I’m guilty of doing the opposite of everything I’ve just said. But I feel like it’s important to have this reminder in the back of your mind. Take some time to relax, try traveling – you could even try a Contiki trip where you get to connect with a group of like-minded people. Contiki opened me up to a new way to travel and I still talk to the friends that I made on a trip months ago that live around the world. Connecting with people is key to our wellbeing and I’d argue a much better way of defining our success. It’s simple really.