How do you measure success? I mean personally, for yourself?
There was a joke that went around when Jesse Jackson was running for president. It goes something like this: Jesse Jackson and the Pope were out on a lake in a boat. The Pope’s mitre blew off his head. So Jesse stepped out of the boat, walked across the water, retrieved the mitre, walked back across the water and gave the mitre back to the Pope. Then Jesse stepped back into the boat. The next day the headlines in the newspapers read “Jesse Jackson can’t swim.” You see my point. Others will judge your success from their own biased perspective so the opinion that counts most when you look at what you have done in your life is your own.
Do you perceive yourself as successful? How do you measure your personal success in your daily life and, if you are an elder, how do you measure your success over the span of your lifetime? There are small successes and large successes. I am looking at my own life right now (because I can only speak for myself and do not wish to judge others or make assumptions about how others perceive their own success). I am making lists.
Small successes. I grew cantaloupes in my back yard. My husband cleans my stove for me (before I met him I would move to a new apartment when the stove got too dirty—note, I am an excellent housekeeper but I don’t get along with stovetops). He also irons my dresses on those rare occasions when I need to look un-wrinkled. The fact that I looked ironed for my nephew’s Bar-Mitzvah last spring is a success attributable to my husband. He’s also good at other things now that I think about it. I digress. More small successes…. I have never put a Krispy Crème doughnut into my body (they don’t even look edible). I can tell the difference between a fumble and an incomplete pass, unlike certain referees (and a whiny quarterback) who will remain unnamed (Go Raiders). I switched all my Pleistocene-Age toilets out for modern low-flush toilets (now whenever I flush I yell yippee because I love my new toilets). I can do 100 sit-ups on the Ab-X at the gym. All my children were born at home. I made a wedding quilt for my son and his wife. I belong to an excellent book group. I took my children to the beach every year for our summer vacation despite our shoestring budget. I snagged the first Honda Fit off the assembly line that was sold in my town (my wonderful electric blue car that I love). I am a blogger. I take pleasure in small successes, which is a success in itself. (Perhaps a large success, what do you think?)
Large successes. I raised three children on forty acres of remote forest and they are wonderful human beings who delight me and make me proud every day (and they also keep me laughing). I have a terrific marriage to an awesome guy who, despite all his chronic health conditions and near-misses with that scary character who carries the scythe, is still alive and rather well (although on a first-name basis with half the paramedics in our small town). I consider it a great success that I put three children through college since I believe that going to college is an extraordinary and life-changing experience that every young person should have available to them. (Despite the fact that my youngest is practically pathological about refusing to seek work in the field in which he earned a degree primarily to demonstrate to me that he didn’t need the degree to succeed in life. Oy.) More about putting the children through college: they do not have any student loan debt because we mortgaged the house to do it. Putting children through college on a lower middle class income is no joke. This is more than a success, it’s a triumph. More large successes…. I can cook delicious healthy foods. I earned a master’s degree and my holistic nutritionist certification. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and enjoy walking in this landscape every day. I have made friends with amazing people from all over the world with diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs. I published a couple of books, but will come back to that in a moment because that’s complicated when it comes to how I measure my personal success. I feel successful in my professional life as I secured a lot of money for organizations to do good work helping people who need the help. (If only I could have secured enough money to ensure my own personal financial security. Not successful with that.)
Despite all my successes (of which I am obviously proud), taking the long view, I have to say that I did not accomplish what I set out to do in my professional life so in that sense I consider myself a failure. It’s remarkable what people wind up doing for a living considering what they set out intending to do. As a young woman I set out in life wanting to be a writer (perhaps I should have set my sights more specifically on being an author). I wanted success as a writer, a published author. Sure, I wanted to win the Pulitzer Prize. But I don’t measure success by winning prizes. I have read Pulitzer Prize winners and not cared for them. So how would I measure success as a writer? I would like to have all my books published and to reach a wide audience with my work, and, here’s the heart of the matter, I would like to make a difference in the lives of others (many more others than I have touched so far) through my writing. I would have liked to have a literary career, to have made enough money off my publications to be able to write fiction fulltime. In Amy’s World, I’m basically only as good as my most recent novel, which is not in print.
Perhaps success is cumulative and the sum of all parts. That old “we win some and we lose some.” If I tally up my successes, I believe they outweigh my failures. They equal an overall successful life. And, of course, I’m not done yet. I’m still writing, still dreaming, and still sending manuscripts out into the world with hope in their wake.
Circling back to my initial question: How do you measure success? I mean personally, for yourself?
Here I am showing off a delicious vegetarian gluten-free dinner I cooked.
Chili relleno casserole, beans with peppers and tomatoes, guacamole,
mango salsa, and salad. (My Jewish Mom pose.) Photo by Sylvia Mullaly.