I have spent a big chunk of my life thinking about what it means to be successful and striving to become so. Until relatively recently, I was confident that I knew what success was.
Success for me was tangible and visible. Success meant a healthy and growing bank balance funded through hard work and dedication to a job with prospects for growth and upward mobility. It meant owning my own home – at least one – that would be filled with modern furniture and beautiful things. It meant being able to afford lovely holidays wherever I wanted to go in the world and spending what I liked without having to worry about running out of funds. Most of us have a working definition of success and for many, that working definition is working them into the ground.
At the ripe old age of 33, I am broke most of the time. I don’t own anything of any value. I am unemployed, single, and my health is failing to the extent that I struggle to keep out of the doctor’s office from week to week. I am also prone to mental illness: depression and anxiety being the evil twins that can put me on the fast track to suicidal ideation. With that terrible list as ample evidence, one might describe me as a miserable failure.
I am not a failure, though. Not by my standards. Not anymore. I wouldn’t say everything I’ve ever done and everything about me has been a great success but neither would anyone who isn’t a complete jerk.
I am a good and kind person. I love my family and I love my friends. I try to be loving and kind to both. I love to learn. I love my wee dog, Troy. I have rediscovered a love for reading and writing. I love my life. Goodness, kindness, love. I don’t always get it right but these are my markers of success now.
That is not to say that I look down on those with ambition. I still have hopes and dreams. I still have goals and a plan in place, which I hope will make my future a brighter one. It’s just that I no longer define myself by what I have or haven’t achieved. If what I have planned doesn’t work out, it will not make me a failure. All it will make me is someone who needs to give it another go or try something else.
Do you know what really clinched it for me that I needed to change my thinking around success? My idea of success didn’t include anyone else. I had made no provision for others. I still find that quite a chilling revelation. I know I’m not the only one who has defined success in this way. Many continue to do so and to convince themselves they have all they need. We cannot be successful in life without others. If we could there really wouldn’t be any point.