As I reflect on my life and why I never attained what I called success in high school and college, I began to wonder if it’s because I was aiming at a moving target. I’ve also learned that I tend to get distracted as one project needs detailed work by a newer and greater idea. All of this reflection has caused me to wonder how we should really measure success.
In my early life, success was all about money, houses, cars, and friends. If I just had really good looks, enough money, and some charm, people would be swarming all over me and I would be able to call myself a success. I know people who are middle aged and older who still feel this way! I don’t. Money can be stolen, houses can be damaged, and cars will always suffer from wear and tear. People who would swarm around me for shallow reasons will ditch me just as quickly when someone with more shiny trinkets comes along. While I believe it is possible to be wealthy, famous, and happy, I no longer believe that money and fame bring happiness along with them.
So, I turned to helping others. After all, I grew up suffering from codependency. If I couldn’t buy success, I could earn it! I went to college and studied to be a music teacher. I just knew that sharing my passion with eager children would definitely make me a success! Yeah, that didn’t work either. Instead, I learned that my baggage from a nasty divorce sucked a lot of my energy and focus, children come with their own interests and personal baggage, parents expect miracles as if their child is the only one you ever teach, lawmakers demand the impossible, and even colleagues can bigoted and judgemental. Sure, there are good days where I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else, but there are also days when I could walk out of the building and never go back. Like any occupation, everything I love is counterbalanced by a negative.
So, I’m back to square one: how do I measure success?
How do I take the best indicator of my personal destiny out of the hands of people who may or may not care for me all? How do I measure so that I’m not aiming at a target that moves: so that I’m not chasing more money, more fame, or more prestige, because there’s somebody out there that has more than I do?
I’m becoming more and more convinced that the secret is housed in a program my church has for young women, “Personal Progress.”
To me, this makes sense! What if I stopped worrying about where I stacked up in a crowd of people or what I look like to a bunch of nameless, faceless “thems”? What if I turned that search inward?
That’s what I’ve been doing a lot lately, and I like the results. Here’s what I’ve found:
- I have overcome the worst of the effects of growing up as a codependent. I can actually love people with all of their flaws and give them the benefit of the doubt without expecting anyone to reciprocate.
- I have become an athlete. When I’m honest, I have to admit that my early addiction with running was an attempt to earn approval. Now, I love seeing what my body can do and planning to build it wisely.
- I have more peace. I have learned that I possess mental and emotional strength, too, and I can use them to weather life’s chaos and turbulence.
- I can take risks. Sure, I get nervous, but I’ve overcome enough to know that things are rarely as bad as I imagine they will be.
- I’ve become a basically caring, thoughtful, generous person. Sure, I struggle to forgive when I feel someone has blatantly attacked me or tried to ruin my reputation just to protect their own, but I work hard to get over it and just go on with life. I’ve learned to actually like people!
- I like me!
So, “personal progress” is my new measure. I love it! Of course, now I can’t stop wondering what the world would be like if I could convince more people to measure success by the same standard!