Success is a funny thing.
It is, at its best, mysterious and fleeting, holding just enough power to elicit feelings of anxiety and self-doubt when pondered too harshly.
It is held up like a beacon to the young and the weary, touting promises of happiness to those who work hard enough, who have enough talent.It produces heady results for those who have tasted it—much like a well-placed compliment or a stiff cocktail.
It’s a funny thing.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking for my success.
I’m still not sure I’ve found it. I’ve tried on several versions of it—felt their unique textures against my skin and inhaled their various scents. I’ve paraded around in false senses of it, only to find each of them hollow and lacking in substance.
I’ve slipped inside of others’ versions of success as well, only to find that they didn’t fit me at all.
It’s a funny thing, success.
Because it’s a subjective notion, success as a concept can become warped, misconstrued and misused. It’s like anything else. I’ve come to believe that the best approach is to take the idea of success and all that it insinuates with a grain of salt.
Fortunately for me, I was raised on a mixed diet of my parents’ hippie ideals and my grandparents’ traditional values. I was fed just enough information regarding success from each camp to be able to approach my life with an understanding of what was expected of society’s productive (a.k.a. successful) citizens and a dreamy-headed outlook that promised success to anyone with honorable intentions and love in their heart. Yet, I still didn’t know exactly what success would look like when I laid eyes on it.
I believe a traditional definition of success includes terms like wealth, accomplishment of goals, favorable outcomes and recognition. In its most simple existence, success can apply to any endeavor, large or small. That concept I can grasp. If I set out to put together a bicycle for my daughter and complete the task with no remaining parts leftover—success. If I aim to run a 5k and complete one successfully, that is also success.
However, if I try to identify my work or my life in general as successful, I come up blank.
I am quite sure I do not possess the traditional markers of success. My goals include utterly intangible and immeasurable treasures like joy, pride in my work, time for my family, pursuit of hobbies and passions, the ability to serve and peace of mind.
My over-the-moon, perfect, fantastical, ultimate ideal future involves a simple and easy-to-care-for (a.k.a. small) home, the ability to travel liberally, a laptop to write on, a natural body of water somewhere nearby and the people I love surrounding me.
I value work weeks that never exceed 40 hours (unless I want them to), waking up excited about what I’m going to accomplish in a day and the moments in which I can be still and soak in my environment.
I seek out joys like soft sunlight rising up around my bed in the early morning, the feeling of a good, deep breath, the feverish murmur of foraging chickens in my yard, lazy, balmy breezes teasing my skin as I sit on my front porch, the sound of my children’s voices and lingering lunches on bright afternoons spent with my husband and friends.
And mostly, I treasure freedom.
You see, I tried it the other way. I spent my 20s chasing success and the American Dream as it had once been told to me.
Go to college, get a job (a good one) and work hard. Make something of yourself.
Make something of myself? Make what of myself? Something.
And so I tried.
I went to college and got my degree.
I had no idea what I wanted to do.
I knew how to write—or so my professors told me—but that was hardly a way to make something of myself. Only the fortunate and few actually make a living by writing—or so I was told.
If I wanted to be successful, I needed a job (a good one).
Or so I was told.
Success is a funny thing.
It wasn’t until I reached my 30s that I realized that I was working much too hard to simply prove my worth in the world. I was doing okay, getting promotions, paying the bills. I had even bought a house and a new(er) car.
But, I dreaded Mondays and lived for Fridays. Two days per week of freedom felt like a mere sliver of enough. Life in a cubicle was stifling and debilitating. I was collecting professional designations and titles in some misguided attempt to validate my existence. I was trying to impress everyone but me. The success I sought was non-existent in my universe.
So I stopped.
I guess success is different for everyone. My only hope is that more of my fellow humans can find their own version of it and free themselves from the crushing pressure of pursuing someone else’s. It is a futile endeavor.
I’ve found recently that joyfulness is my success. I don’t think there is a single better reason for living than the experience of true joy.
We can’t properly live, or serve without it. I am willing to sacrifice money, material possessions and professional prestige to own it. And I am today in full pursuit of a success that is defined by my contributions to society, my kindness to others and my own beautiful vision of the world at large.
Yes, success is a funny thing.
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Apprentice Editor: Sue Adair/ Editor: Travis May
Photo: Deep Bhatia via pixoto