The other day while I was out with my sister, I ran into the mother of a girl I went to high school with. We said hello and she politely asked me how I was doing, and just as the “…ay” of “I’m okay” parted from my lips, she, like the road runner taking off from Wile E. Coyote, zoom … beep beep… somehow launched into “Well my daughter has been married for two years and they own a house and so-and-so is having a baby any day now and so-and-so, well, she’s getting married and she lost all that weight. Remember how big she was …” Before she could go on any longer she was interrupted and pulled away to something else. I immediately told my sister “I need a better poker face and a better story than ‘I’m okay’.” How boring!
Then I got to thinking, is that how people judge success? By marriages, and children and weight loss … Geez, if that’s the case, I am at the bottom of the barrel for sure. Marriage? Negative. Children? Negative. Weight Loss? More like weight gain. Throw in the fact that I live alone with two cats and my score registers way below zero on the success-o-meter.
Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of judging myself in that way. If I lose weight I think I’m successful. If I manage to hook a man with the potential of it going somewhere serious – woo hoo, success! And children, well, of course once I have children I will truly be a success – duh! I guess I’m okay judging myself that way but for other people to do it … not so much. After all, we are and have the right to be our own worst critics.
But when did appearance, marriage and family become somewhat of a standard for success? It must have been once upon a time, long, long ago in a land far away because now in the year 2008, I say to you my brothas and sistas, there is much more to life and much more to look at in terms of success. Can I get an AMEN?!?! But how do we break that cycle; that archaic way of thinking.
I don’t look at my friends and think “what a loser she has gained weight and still isn’t married, isn’t even in a serious relationship – she’ll never amount to anything.” But when the cackling of the world gets inside your brain it’s easy to judge yourself in that way. “I’m too fat … I’m getting old and I’m gonna be single foooorrrreeeeevvvvvvveeeeerrrrr…maybe I should freeze my eggs before they go bad and I am completely barren.” This can’t be healthy and it can’t be a “successful” way of thinking.
Some of the people who fit the mold of the traditional ideals of success may not be very happy. Sure they might be fit and in shape, married to their high school sweetheart and have 2.5 kids but are they truly happy? If they are, then I say yes, that is success. But you can’t truly be successful unless you’re happy.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen says “If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.” Others may deem us successful, but unless we are happy from the inside out, does what they think really matter? While some days may seem to move by slowly, the reality is that life is shorter than you think, and I bet if we took a look at the amount of time we spend trying to please others in order to be seen as a success rather than focusing on feeling like a success, we would find that we have wasted a large percentage of our lives.
The journey isn’t about being who people think we should be; it’s about becoming who we were destined to be. Searching for and finding that inner happiness that fulfills you to the point that there is no room for worrying about what others perceive. That’s what success is, or at least what I think it should be.
In that case, have I found success? No. Why? Because I have spent the majority of my 32 years seeking acceptance from others; trying to mold my self into what I thought I was supposed to be. But maybe if I just let myself be me I would find that inner happiness, the acceptance from the people who really matter, and a level of success incomparable to anyone or anything else.
Just a (long) thought.
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” – Henry David Thoreau