Success: Money, freedom and fulfillment

The interesting thing about success is there are a number of definitions and they’re all subjective, but that doesn’t mean they’re incorrect.

It’s not uncommon for people to reference the amount of money you’re making as a gauge for how successful you are. 

However, in my experience, money is a secondary component of being successful.

I’ll explain.

Making a load of money is always nice, but there’s so much more to being successful. Considering lifestyle is a great way to approach this definition for yourself. 

I’ve got friends and acquaintances that make significant fortunes, but their week is consumed with a lifestyle I see as less than ideal.

Kudos to them. They found something they like, it pays very well and the ROI for them is worth it.

If this is you then this article isn’t for you, but if it’s not then keep reading.

Know Yourself

Consider the following if you find yourself performing some function that you truly dislike as the only way to make money.

I like to suggest individuals define what success looks like to themselves. If you can clearly define what success looks like then you have a specific target and can build a plan to reach that goal.

If you haven’t already, check out season one of the Tasty Dangerous podcast and listen to the first episode on goal setting. Or you can read the show notes HERE

Developing a plan will give you steps to achieving your success and a way to gauge your progress. 

Adventure Calls

Now that you know a bit about how I perceive success I’ll share a few life examples that led me to this realization. 

Twilight at the range

Yes, I like making money. 

However, I’ve made good money a number of times in my life and it turns out it left a lot to be desired. This was particularly due to the way I made the money.

Years ago I was living in the mountains of Montana after having deployed to Iraq with the Army. I was looking at getting back into college, but I was in a difficult place both financially and mentally. 

Prior to the deployment I was in a university learning 3D Animation and Modeling. However, after I returned from that deployment I was struggling with the creative mindset. 

To put it bluntly, I had more pressing things to get squared away before I started creating again or got back into school. Being in this situation had me focusing heavily on money. 

I needed to survive and that meant making money. I was rapidly spending my savings on a venture that wasn’t working out and needed to find a solution.

Warrior Spirit

I developed a skillset with the Army that entailed being a security specialist in a hight threat environment. I had also made connections while overseas with folks in the private security industry on explosive ordinance disposal missions.

I’m not going into the politics on these types of careers. However, I will say that having served in both a military and private sector capacity I have some opinions that are blurred.

Maybe I’ll write a blog on that some day, but for now I’ll stay on point.


At this time in my life I saw success as being financially free and getting to go on adventures. I found that in the private security sector. 

The caveat was the adventure was in a high threat environment.

I became a trunk monkey.

A monkey in the trunk

I took the position and found myself standing in Baghdad a week later. I was running convoys and performing security for personnel on explosive ordinance disposal missions throughout Iraq in 2006-2007. 

Risk Versus Reward

While performing this gig it wasn’t uncommon to learn someone from your team was injured or killed. This was a reality I accepted and had volunteered for. It was a shitty reality.

The most money I’ve ever made in my life was $21,000 in a single month and this was during my stint in the private security industry. In realty that money wasn’t shit compared to the risks those of us involved were taking. 

Jaguar Crew

At one point in my contract I was the warm body replacement at a base in Tikrit. It was for a truck team that had been decimated by multiple pressure plate improvised explosive devices (IED’s).

Two trucks where annihilated and there were a number of casualties. 


It’s a gut check when someone looks at you and says you gotta go to replace the fallen. I went, but it didn’t mean I was excited about the situation.

At the time I was rolling the dice and happy for the opportunity. That said there was a moment in this “adventure” I’ll never forget. 

A friend and fellow security specialist was chatting with me. The conversations was mostly him trying to figure out what the hell I was doing in Iraq.

He suggested I get my ass back to the states and find my way into a university leaving the sandbox a distant memory.

Run-Flat, center back

“Run-flat” was a cool dude and old enough he could have damn near been my dad. Not only was he formally educated and a published author, but also old school airborne infantry.

He’d been out of the service for many years, but found his way back into the private sector on what I understood as a mission to write about the private security industry.

However, he was also operating as a security specialist in its full capacity. He wasn’t just interviewing people who performed these duties.

The conversation eventually found its way into discussing the amount of money we were making.

The idea of “Is it worth it?”

The risk we were taking for the adventure backed with good pay. This led to him saying the following.

“You gotta make it home to spend it.” 

Run-Flat, if you’re reading this, thank you for your thoughts.

It’s amazing what sacrifices someone might go through to achieve a financial improvement. Beware the risk of valuing money more than your personal wellbeing.

Making Moves

That single moment in time changed my trajectory in life.

Floor of my gun tub in the back of a pickup truck

Shortly there after I found myself on one of the sketchiest convoys I ever performed and the last time I was in a gun tub.

I was the lead gunner on a convoy down one of the most dangerous roads in the world. We were running thousands of pounds of high explosives over the road from Tikrit to Baghdad.

The route we were on had so many roadside bombs at one point I was told there was a catastrophic IED 1 out of 5 trips you take. That’s called rolling the dice and a game of Russian roulette I wasn’t too fond of.

Moving Day

We made it to Baghdad that day with no “real” issues.

While staging that week at camp Victory, a huge base in Baghdad, we got some grim word. The base we were headed to in the Anbar province had been hit by chlorine truck bombs.

Camp Victory

Essentially killing and gassing a number of Marines.

Fuck that.

MSR Tampa

The problem was this. My contract had been completed and I already spent over an additional month in country to help the team move to Baghdad.

Rules of the road

The mission was simple. We secure and destroy unexploded ordinance so it stops being used in attacks against the locals by militias and tribal warfare.

Defensive posture, meaning we weren’t out searching for trouble.

I was being told if I went to the new base in Anbar I wouldn’t get out of country, due to logistical restrictions, for a number of months. 

Spending 10-12 months without leave in a combat zone, all while running the roads? Not an idea that left me with the warm and fuzzies.

Maybe if I was in a cubicle on base it woulda been different, but instead I took my leave and headed back to the states for a breather.

A New Mission

To the point, money isn’t everything.

You need to make it home to spend it.

When I got home I started to see the craziness in rolling the dice to make some cash. Yes, the adventure was one of the most bad ass and intense experiences I’ve ever had, but it left many things to be desired.

I decided it would be wise to take Run-Flat and my families advice.

I applied to some universities with the mindset if I was accepted I’d go. However, if I wasn’t accepted there were strong considerations of returning to the sand box to continue rolling my dice.

Unexpectedly I was accepted at the University of Minnesota and started the process to get going again in school.

A number of months later I received word two of the five person team I deployed with where killed in an IED blast.

Why so serious?

Micah Shaw and Steve Evrard. Rest in peace brothers, you’re not forgotten.

Micah Shaw

We weren’t over seas just for the money, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t part of the allure.

Not many people can say they helped a local population with security all while performing high threat convoys down some spicy routs. Sense of accomplishment with that mission was pretty high.

The adventure and camaraderie were a huge aspect that many of us were drawn to, but pulling in $21,000 in a month can make that even more enticing.

I was fortunate enough to have had the experience and met some amazing people.

It taught me a number of things about myself and helped me develop more as a person. It also padded my bank account, but that had a cost of its own.

Success? At this point I had a lot of questions that needed answers.

Suits and Ties

Moving on. The corporate life.

Years after my experience in the private security industry I finished grad school and received my masters degree in security technology.

I found my way into a corporate position with a large international technology company and started making good money again. 

I had awesome benefits and, in relation to the private security industry, my job was quite possibly the easiest thing I ever did in my life to make money.

You just gotta be motivated, play the game and climb the ladder. 

It didn’t take long though and I started questioning my motives. The feeling of fulfillment was something I was lacking along with missing the adventure of my previous lifestyle.

I had also developed a firm realization my time on earth was being utilized by the corporation. This was in exchange for money to build their dream.

The same could be said for the private security industry or any other position you ever take or any business you create.

Trading time for money.

It’s a reality for many people.

Phoenix Rises: Creative revival

A nice development during my corporate experience was I found my way back to being creative. I was painting, producing music and shooting photography quite a bit.

I also started making videos and found I really enjoyed that aspect of creativity.

It was a few years after I found my way into corporate that I realized my true version of success was building a business of my own. One that afforded me freedom of movement.

I wanted to be able to travel on my own accord more than two or three weeks a year. 

I will say it was nice getting fat paychecks in corporate, but I’ve never felt more accomplished than surviving on my own.

Exploring Potential

I started Optic Ninja Media while in corporate and at the same time started to plan my exit. I really had no idea what I was doing, but this challenge was also something that drew me in. 

Anyone that says to just quit a job you hate doing is wrong. You need to learn to accomplish that which you don’t like.

You also need a plan and a savings. Again, there’s more on this in the first episode of season one of the Tasty Dangerous podcast.

Even with my media company there are piles of things that are frustrating or not that enjoyable. Survival requires intelligence and sacrifice.

However, this is life. It’s something that separates those that do from those that don’t achieve their highest potential.

Although I do have a goal for income, it’s not the primary component in gauging whether I’m successful. It’s been a few years now and I’m still seeing the potential of growing my own business and enjoying the benefits of travel. 

These things take time.

Don’t get it twisted though. This life is more difficult than the corporate life in many ways.

Yet, for the time being, I’m willing to accept the sacrifices necessary to continue this life.

In Closing

To the point, define success for yourself and forget what anyone else has to say. People may like to tell you what success is, but only you know what it is for yourself.

I grew up hearing a term “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Forget the Joneses! Know yourself and you’ll be better off for it.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my podcast. It would be great to hear your feedback.

Contact me with any questions you have or with ideas for content you’d like to see. Be sure to check out Tasty Dangerous on social media for regular updates.

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