Defining (and Redefining) Success

 Finding success is like finding a particular restaurant in a large city where you’ve never been. You don’t know how to get there and, even with written directions of how you should proceed, you never know what obstacles you might encounter along the way. There are always things denying us access to the life we want. The most common of these are our own excuses. We hem and haw over the bad luck we’ve had, the uncommon difficulties we’ve faced, the people, legitimate or not, who have stood in our way.

If I look at the friends I had in high school, most of which I have at least retained some contact with over the years, I see a great deal of personal success. They have become doctors and lawyers, engineers and scientists, entrepreneurs and business leaders. In some cases, they have attained exactly the type of success they were looking for when we were all dreamy-eyed high school students, looking out upon a great, open world brimming with opportunity. In some cases, they have gone beyond those ambitions, finding not only professional success, but also personal success in the form of spouses and children. They have nice cars, nice homes, and, overall, nice lives.

In many ways, I feel like I have fallen short of success as I saw it when I was in high school. Graduating third in my class, with a full scholarship and endless possibilities ahead of me, I was expected by all, myself included, to find all those things I have listed above, all those things that, to the world at large, form our definition of success. Instead, I have worked at several mediocre jobs in the retail industry that, while not being minimum wage, are still far less glamorous and lucrative than I was expecting. I have gone through a bitter divorce that often remains bitter to this day. I married too young, became a parent too young, and gave up my scholarship to pursue what means I could to provide for my family. I live in an old, but comfortable house (comfortable when the air conditioning and heat work), not the palatial estate of my dreams. I drive an old minivan instead of the new cars that I moon over as they pass me on the long drive back and forth to work every day. Some days, those cars passing me by represent all the opportunities that I have had, passing me by as I struggle along.

Still, I blame no one but myself for where I am, if these is any blame to be had. My current situation is a direct result of the decisions I have made, not the uncontrollable events that have happened to me. I did not have to do things that led to so early a marriage or divorce. No one forced me to have children at such a young age. I was not coerced in any way to give up my scholarship in order to do what was best for my young family. All these things, and countless others, were my decisions and mine alone. Throughout the years, I have often been forced by my own hand to rewrite my plan for success until almost nothing remains of the hopes I had leaving high school.

Am I a failure? That is a question I have asked myself numerous times over the years and always the answer is the same. No, I am not a failure. What I am is someone that has been forced to take a long look at what success means to me and rework it, change that meaning around, condense it down until it reflects the positives I have built in my life.

I am now married to my best friend and cannot imagine being more perfect as a couple with anyone else. I have established myself as a competent manager and motivator of people who not only gets the results that are demanded of me, but who also supports and builds the self-respect of the people who work under me. I have written several short stories, a first novel, and am nearing completion on a second novel which, I am happy to say, is better than the first. I now have four wonderful children and, although I don’t spend as much time as I would like with them, they are all growing into intelligent, remarkable human beings and that, more than anything, enables me to consider myself a success.

Success is not reached by staring at the horizon. Success is found beneath one’s own feet, a step at a time. No one standing still, basking in their own glory, can look back and see what success has meant to them because success is a constantly moving body, building upon itself one inch, one foot, one step at a time. With these steps forward in my life, there have been some steps backward–lost jobs, financial problems, rejection letters from publishers–but each of these makes those steps forward all that more important to defining my new sense of what success is. I would still like to have the BMW, the six-figure salary, and the house on the hill, but that definition of success no longer applies to me. Success to me is a hug from my children . It is a kiss from my wife when I bring her flowers. It is a well-played tennis point. It is a thousand words on my novel before I go to bed. By these measurements, my measurements, I am successful beyond anything I ever hoped for.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
This entry was posted in general rants, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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