I think I existed in survival mode my entire school career. I tried to make the teacher happy, tried to be noticed. I was noticed by doing the best work, and I was noticed by my behavior. And then I was worthy. I aimed to please.
It was a good day when the teacher said something like this: “Everyone, you should all try to be like Pam. She has followed the directions and has done everything I told her to do.”
In fourth grade, our assignment was to write step-by-step directions on how to tie a shoe. In front of the class, the teacher read everyone’s work and attempted to tie his own shoe doing exactly what the student had written. One after another the directions failed. Until he got to mine. Mine was the only one that worked. Oh what a great day that was! I was noticed! Success.
I tried this technique as an adult. Life and work became more complicated. There was no school. Things were open and unstructured. I had more responsibility and more things to do, like real world stuff. Be an employee, be a parent. Looking for success the old way backfired. There was no boss to notice me because I was the boss. There was no parent to notice me because I was the parent. I was tired and I was confused.
What is success anyway? I wasn’t aware of my subconscious definition of success, even though I had been chasing it my whole life. I didn’t realize what I was chasing.
Is success based on money? Is it based on status? Does someone need to tell me I’m successful? Do I need an award?
I struggle with success without some sort of recognition by someone other than me. I also struggle with it being associated with money. Life is a lot easier when you can say, I did this, or this is my job. People ask me what I do quite frequently. I never have a good answer.
Maybe the better questions are:
Is my life a success?
When I leave this earth, what will I leave behind?
Will I leave behind love? Or will I leave behind stuff?
Will the people I’ve left behind be kinder and happier because I was part of their life? Or will I leave behind pain?
Will I have lived the life that was meant for me? Or will I continue to lose myself doing things for everyone but myself?
It’s not about what job I have. It’s about my life.
It’s going to bed at night and feeling good about the day, no matter how crappy it was. I was kind, I worked hard, and I took care of myself and my family. And if I wasn’t able to do any of that, I will begin again tomorrow.
Can I give myself the respect and recognition that I need? Can I give myself an award? Even if there’s no money involved?
I sometimes still find myself wishing someone would look at me and say “Wow, I saw what you did and it was amazing.” But now, I just say that to myself. And it’s enough.
I’m constantly asking myself questions. Am I okay with my work leading to nothing I would equate with outward success? Am I okay if I write essays or stories or a book and nobody reads them, or likes them? Why am I doing this? I write because of the possibility. The possibility of what? The possibility of making money? The possibility of someone telling me how great I am?
I want to do this work and not be attached to the outcome. I want to write something that fascinates me. I want the work to be interesting and exciting. I am writing this for myself. I want to learn. About myself, history, people, the world. About love.
I had to change my definition of success. It only took changing everything I’ve ever known of how to be in the world. No big deal. I had to look back at myself to define success on my own terms. I’m the person who decides what success is.
“Pam, you should try to be like Pam. Pam has followed Pam’s directions and has done everything Pam told Pam to do.”
Yup. I did that.