I recently had the privilege of connecting with a significant influence from my past. That's one thing I really love about social media - I'm able to stay in contact with so many people from so many different parts of my life. I certainly would not be doing so if it took much more effort than scrolling through a news feed - it's sad but true. While many would argue that virtual relationships are feigned and shallow, I would beg to differ. I've found my online community to be a life line in times of trouble, an encouragement in times of challenge and all-around inspiring and delightful.
This particular friend from long ago made a comment in passing that stood out to me like a neon sign. She said something about knowing all those years ago that'd I'd be successful in anything I chose to do. It caused me to reflect on those days of long, long ago.
Way back then, it did appear that I would do well, based on my academic performance, at least. I was really good at school; I had figured out at an early age what the system required, and that's what I did. Not because I felt pressured by parents or teachers, not because I was ambitious or overly intelligent, not because I wanted to compete with my fellow classmates... It was my addiction to approval that drove me to excel at school. My goal in life was to please people - I craved affirmation like some people crave chocolate. (I crave that, too, but that's a whole 'nother story) It was a happy accident that my learning style happened to coincide with most schools' teaching style - I learned best by hearing, reading and writing.
(I have to stop here and make a confession: I didn't actually learn much in school. I always said I had a short-term photographic memory - I listened in class, wrote out notes, memorized them for the test, then promptly forgot whatever it was I had regurgitated onto the test paper. Which translated into top grades, lots of praise and next to zero real, lasting knowledge.)
This is significant and I need to ponder it more; but this isn't what I came here to write about tonight. It was the notion of success I wanted to explore. The more I considered the above comment, the more I realized that I am the complete opposite of successful in so many important ways.
I don't have a career. I didn't pursue my education - I have no master's or doctorate degree. So many of my peers are doing so well these days; and I'm thrilled for them! But when I compare my professional life to theirs, I lose every time. I had a very different vision of what I thought my life should be like at this point (middle age - eek!).
However... it took me awhile to see this, but I would have to say that I'm becoming more and more successful in what really counts. It's taken many years and many tears, but I'm finally at the point where I'm giving myself permission to build a life I love. I'm beginning to see that physical and mental health, a strong marriage, kind and caring kids, deep connections, fruitful ministry, a job that makes a difference in the world and ongoing personal growth and development are what define success for me.
I still wrestle with the idea that financial security and vocational advancements are the only legitimate brands of success; that notion has been seared on my brain since I can remember. I have felt so much shame over the years for the unforeseen twists and turns my path has taken, away from the status and security I longed for.
I'm grateful to report that I'm finding healing from those feelings of failure, disappointment, inadequacy and guilt. I'm looking at my life with fresh eyes and daring to admit that I like what I see.
I want to live an unrushed life; small, slow and significant. I want a life with plenty of margin - white spaces where the unexpected can be pursued. I want time to ponder and study and walk and take pictures and read and write and connect deeply with people. I want to live simply so that I can give generously of my time, talents and resources. I want to value people over projects, calm over chaos, peace over performance.
It wasn't too long ago that I felt horribly guilty over this wish list. But I am learning the secret of being content. For me, it lies in killing the habit of comparison and finding beauty in simplicity. Above all, it means accepting myself just as I am, even delighting in who I was created to be - assets and faults, skills and shortcomings, abilities and limitations, strengths and weaknesses. The real Joy ❤