I’m tired of berating myself for “not being far enough along”.
I’m tired of seeing fabulous friends twist themselves into knots because their unconventional life hasn’t resulted in the traditional markers of success.
There are moments in my life when I look back and all I see is a trail of destruction – me, hopscotching around the world, leaving chaos and confusion in my wake. There are other moments when I look at my look at my online avatar and feel distinctly jealous of how this curated version of myself seems to have it all figured out. (The resume, the pretty pictures, the travels). The reality is somewhere in the middle.
If you are on a conventional path (feat. marriage + babies + house in suburbs + steady job), hooray for you. I wish you well.
If that’s not your ambition, it’s much trickier to evaluate your progress and it’s easy to be unduly harsh. It’s tremendously comforting to feel that you are on the right path, even if you have a steep, uphill climb ahead. Amidst all the detours, false starts and wrong turns, I think I have found my path.* Having a sense of one’s own progress is important. It’s emboldening, it means your hard work is paying off, it’s immensely satisfying.
Going your own way (as an entrepreneur, creative or pioneer) can be incredibly disorientating. Or at least it is for me. A big chunk of my mental/emotional bandwidth is absorbed by the uncertainty that accompanies this crazy life.
Of course, life can’t be reduced to a series of boxes to be ticked. This isn’t about reaching a financial target, a career high or the pinnacle of traveling. It’s about defining your own sense of what success is, and living your life in accordance with those metrics.
So, I took myself for an early morning coffee and hammered out exactly what success looks like to me.
This is what I came up with: (in no particular order)
- Doing good work that I’m proud of and that helps people.
- Having the courage to take risks and make hard decisions, even when they aren’t popular.
- Having relationships (platonic and romanic) that challenge me to be more of myself. To be with people in both life’s inevitable dark moments and the joyous times too.
- To have faith in my own voice, instincts and ideas. And, the courage to make them real.
- To laugh often, prioritise my health and have fun.
- Investing in the friendships and experiences that matter to me.
- Saving a little money each month.
- To write even when it makes me want to cry or puke or scream (like now).
- To be there for the people I love, and let them be there for me.
- Excellent food, amazing art and the mental/emotional/physical space to enjoy it.
- To be honest
- To trust that whatever happens, I’ll figure it out.
*famous last words
P.S. I gotta say: the conventional route is just as valid, and indeed sometimes even more subversive, than the pioneering one. The ‘normal’ path fulfils our human needs for stability, structure, a community, a solid income, and the drive to procreate. This isn’t about judging one path as superior, but acknowledging that progress along whichever path (or some combination of the two) matters.
P.P.S. If you’re feeling unsuccessful, consider Da Vinci’s path to acclaim: