I’ve thought quite a lot recently about the definition of success. I’ve wondered how much it might have changed through the generations, how wildly different our perception of our own success can be versus others’ opinions, and how much it actually matters.
The other morning I woke up feeling cross with myself for not being a successful lawyer or similar professional with a high flying career. It’s not that I’ve ever aspired to be a lawyer, more just that I felt very aware that as time ticks on my opportunity to continue trying out different places of work is diminishing. I probably read too many editions of Cosmopolitan in my twenties resulting in my notion that a ‘proper’ successful career equalled a scenario in which power dressing and corner offices featured alongside glamorous business lunches, and I think it’s reasonable to say that for much of my generation success has been equal to material wealth.
I don’t look back with any regret, but I have often wondered what different path my life might have taken if career possibilities had been more clearly illustrated to me in my teens. I mostly recall having no idea what I would like to do with my life, but not being offered much guidance further than completing a questionnaire which resulted in suggestions of a) prison officer and b) truck driver’s mate. Oddly neither seemed appealing! Perhaps if this quiz had presented something that piqued my curiosity I could have grasped hold of an idea and wouldn’t have felt so lost for so long, but it’s equally possible that I am simply following the path that has suited me best.
I just googled ‘definition of success’ and according to the Oxford Dictionary it is this, “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, the good or bad outcome of an undertaking”. Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? I fear I have wasted a great deal of time worrying about how to ‘be successful’ as opposed to really thinking about my aim or purpose which seems far more important really.
It would perhaps have been more helpful during our expat years to have defined my aim and purpose as being to ensure that our family thrived during the process, and that I would allow myself the time to pursue various interests and self development projects. I think I could look back and say that I had been largely successful in this. M’s version of success might have been quite different, but I certainly played a part in it as his wife. Funnily enough I made a flippant comment about liking the idea of a wife of my own in a facebook group this week, and somebody responded that I wasn’t very PC. I absolutely didn’t see ‘wife’ as being derogatory, rather an excellent and resourceful support system within the team!
The process of building this blog and trying to put my finger on what I’m about has in fact done more to help me clarify my aim or purpose than anything else, and it is essentially to live a contented life. Keeping things simple and embracing curiosity and creativity are instrumental in this, but perhaps more importantly is that I aim to be kind as I go about it. I have this quote about kindness from The School of Life which inspires me:
“The kind person is a good listener who doesn’t moralise. They know their own minds well enough not to be surprised or frightened by strangeness. They know how insane we all are: that is why we can feel comfortable about being heard by them. They give the impression of accepting, without bitterness or censure, that human beings in general are endearingly loopy.”
I certainly don’t get it right all the time, while I advocate simplicity our lives often feel far too complicated, and although I try to be kind I am sometimes too honest and frequently impatient. But, it’s something to aim towards.
I’m reading Atul Gawande’s book ‘Being Mortal’ at the moment which is perhaps why I’m feeling rather reflective, and it has made me think a little about what I will leave behind, a legacy if you will. I highly doubt I will be leaving any artistic masterpieces or revolutionary ideas, but if I can inspire anyone to place greater value on working towards their purpose, and being kind while they’re at it then I’ll feel satisfied that I’ve been a success.
However, I am still young (well, heading towards middle-aged perhaps) and have many, many plans for the future, but rest assured that becoming a lawyer is not one of them. I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from my family now!
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