I once stood somewhat uncomfortably in a group of strangers.
It was at a kid’s party and the adults had been thrust together while the birthday boy’s mom and dad were distracted by duties. One woman wanted to end the sound of crickets and asked another, “So, what do you do?”
The woman smiled almost knowingly and in sincerity replied, “It’s funny how that’s the question we are always asked, the go-to icebreaker. Why does it matter what I do?”
There was immediate interest peaked at this response, as if we had all been pulled from an impending lull, as she continued, “I can tell you my name is Sarah, I’m Kale’s mom, and yes he’s the one who’s running around like a crazy fool—he gets that from me. I’m considered a bit of a misfit but at the same time a total cliché. I love reading, I dabble a bit with writing my own stuff, and if I can be anywhere near the ocean, I’m winning.”
I remembered being utterly enamoured by this misfit/total cliché. I’m sure what she actually said was slightly different, but I hope I have adequately conveyed the feeling that this woman left me with. In our lives, we will have a handful of these really profound moments, the ones that stick with us.
I’m 34 years old and I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my 11-year-old daughter. I have worked hard, but quite honestly not smart, to be where I am today. By not smart, I mean I seem to be the world’s worst salary negotiator.
For the last little while, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of what success actually means. Actually, scrap that, I’ve been drowning in society’s idea of what success means. I have felt a little lost in the noise and I’ve reached a “f*ck you, society” point.
I am not financially well-off and everywhere I turn, I seem to be confronted with this idea of money defining how successful I am. I don’t drive a fancy car, I drive a little jalopy, the kind that keeps me on my toes guessing if it will start. I own very little materially, except books, but who could live a life worth living without books?
While this has been plaguing me, I was reminded of Sarah and her reply. How she chose to define herself by who she was rather than be pressed for what she does for a living. I never actually asked her what she did after that. We got stuck into conversation about poetry and nothing else mattered. It was one of the best conversations I have ever had.
So, how do we actually measure success? From a struggling writer’s perspective:
1. Rich in Love
If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Into the Wild,” you will remember a scene where the legendary Cheryl Strayed is moaning at her mother about their unfortunate financial situation and asking her why she’s happily singing while making dinner. Her mother responds, “We’re rich in love.”
Talk about a punch-gut reminder of what is really important. I can tell you that some of the best moments I have shared with my loved ones have had nothing to do with money. There have been times I have been struggling financially and my daughter and I have sat on the couch and laughed right from the belly—you simply can’t buy that kind of happiness.
2. Pursuing Passion
I may not be a successfully paid writer, but if passion were a currency, I’d be rolling in it. I’ve been blessed with incredible opportunities thanks to my writing, particularly in combining it with travel. I have written hundreds and thousands of hotel descriptions and activity descriptions that have let me garner what I consider the greatest aspect of life: experiences.
My definition of passion is experience. You will instantaneously know who are the ones who pursue passion; you will feel it from them, it will be a contagious kind of joy. They lead from their heart and soul, and that’s success.
3. Kindness is the Way Forward
I have noticed in these troubling times that there has been a vast distinction between acts of kindness and acts of selfishness. While I like to focus on the acts of kindness, I have been witness and on the receiving end of acts that lack compassion and empathy and have left me reeling.
I believe a successful person is an avid practitioner of kindness and I have seen, heard, and been a part of some of the kindest initiatives in my life and it’s an honour to witness it and play my part. We can’t get it right every single time but we can strive to, and that’s a resounding success.
I truly believe that success is defined by so much more than what is in our bank accounts. Maybe I’ve lost sight of that in an effort to be considered a “success” in the rat race.
I think I’ll go back to the basics and remember that what we own is not what defines us. What we contribute to this world does.