I recently found myself despairing pretty hardcore over the state of my finances and lamenting the fact that I haven’t managed to meet all my personal and career goals in the time I had set for myself many years ago. I had always just assumed that I would be a successful writer by the age of 30, having written at least one novel, and able to support myself comfortably through either writing, or through one of the other various avenues in which I boast qualifications. I assumed I would be living in a house I owned, managing to write and raise my son, enjoying a comfortable lifestyle. Well, here I am, at 31 years of age, quite unable to support myself through writing, and quite frankly, struggling to make ends meet on the daily. Any hopes of becoming “successful” by the age of 30 have long since been dashed, and with the holidays approaching, and the hole in my wallet growing ever deeper, it has become easy to wallow in the depths of self loathing and self pity.
The criticism we face from ourselves is, in many ways, even harsher and more hurtful than criticism we receive from loved ones or strangers. We are our own worst enemies, and I am no exception. For every small “success” I achieve, I point out five failures to myself to counter them. I pepper myself with questions. Why haven’t you written that novel yet? Why can’t you just finish the book? Why can’t you write better articles? Why has it been years since you wrote a poem? Why can’t you juggle your time better? Why can’t you make more money? Why can’t you manage the money you have better? Why are you such a disappointment? Surely your peers are doing much better than you! I lament the fact that I never have time to write, because I’m too busy taking care of my household and juggling three part time jobs. I wonder if I should force myself to make more time for writing. But then I think, writing is all well and good, but if you can’t fill up your gas tank, then where will you be? I bitterly dwell on the fact that I have to choose between pursuing my dreams and goals and making a living (which I’m not really doing anyway, despite the hours I work, so it’s a moot point).
Rather than coming down so hard on myself for what I haven’t accomplished, what I should be asking myself is, “Why are you being so hard on yourself?” OK fine, so I haven’t achieved all the goals I set out for myself back when I was a naÃ¯ve, immature teenager with no idea how the world worked or a crystal ball to tell me what would happen with the economy and job industry. I haven’t written the Great American Novel. I haven’t been published in Time Magazine. I haven’t managed to make a significant amount of money through my writing. So what? I may not have accomplished those very specific things, but I have accomplished a great deal. I should be celebrating my successes, rather than dwelling on my failures.
I’m certainly not the only person to fall victim to this way of thinking. It is a learned behavior. From childhood, we’re taught all about how to take pride in things we have no control over, like where we’re born or what sports team represents our home town, but when it comes to our actual accomplishments, dreams and goals, we’re expected to always strive for more. To be satisfied with your lot in life is the kiss of death. We’re a nation of over-achievers, who are always waiting for that bigger paycheck, for more notoriety, for fame and fortune. We’re always striving for the bigger, the better, pushing ourselves to the limit to reach some unattainable goal of perfection in every aspect of our lives. It isn’t enough to have a job or do it well. It isn’t enough to have a passion and do it well, either. No ““ we expect our jobs and our passions to coincide, and not only that, but to be 100% successful at them all the time. And what does the word “success” even mean, anyway? How is that gauged? Does it mean making a comfortable living at something, or does it mean receiving accolades? For some, it means doing well in the eyes of others, which is a whole other kettle of fish. When it comes right down to it, only a small percentage of people can actually claim to become rich, famous and successful doing exactly what they love. And even those people who are that fortunate have their own set of problems to deal with. Perfection is not only an unattainable goal, but an outright myth. Success itself is relative.
It can be maddening, trying to live up to your own expectations of what success is and how to manage it. I know I’ve driven myself to distraction trying to be the perfect version of myself. So much so, at times, that I’ve wondered if I’m worrying my life away, striving to be perfect, rather than getting genuine fulfillment and enjoyment from the life I have. After all, when I look on it objectively, things are pretty great. I write, and I enjoy it. I may not make much money at it, but there are other measures of success. Like knowing that my friends and family are proud of me, and enjoy my work. Seeing my name in print. Being able to share my thoughts and musings with others. Those are the true rewards.
As I began writing this, I received an email from a friend. In her message, she said, “just remember that you are amazing the way you are.” It was just the thing I needed to hear today, to reinforce my feelings that success is what you make of it. Rather than dwelling on how to make more money at what I do, how to be more clever, more pretty, a better Mom, a better wife, how to keep a cleaner house, how to make friends and influence people and all the other pressures society tells me I must strive for, why not just sit down and smell the proverbial roses, and just be SATISFIED with who and what I am? Now, wouldn’t that be a novel idea?
With the Presidential election less than a month away, and the holiday season fast on our heels, it can be easy to give way to stress and pressure in our every day lives. But just as these times bring stress and pressure, they also bring the possibility for hope and positivity. Rather than dwelling on what we haven’t achieved, why not dwell on what we have achieved? Even better, why not dwell on what we will achieve? Success is not measured by money, or what other people think of you, but rather by what makes you happy and fulfilled. That means something different for every person. When defined in those terms, success is so much easier to obtain than you think.
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein