An Ever-Moving Target

Is it wrong that I don’t feel like writing about the stuff everyone is talking about right now? It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that my opinions can be summed up fairly succinctly:
A senior White House official admonishing progressives for attempting to knock so-called “Blue Dog Democrat” Blanche Lincoln out of the Senate primary race in Arkansas? Centrist Bullshit.
Legendary reporter Helen Thomas being essentially forced to retire for having an unpopular opinion on Israel? Politically Correct, First Amendment-Busting Bullshit.
President Obama threatening to kick ass to remedy the oil spill in the Gulf that is threatening the lives and livelihood of Americans? False Bravado Bullshit.
No, the only thing that’s really speaking to me today is the subject of success. We talk about it a lot—what it looks like, who has it, who blew it—but it sure is hard to know what to do with it when we lay hands on it. And goodness forbid you have it pulled out from under you: Last summer, I was finally able to admit to myself that the life I’d always wanted—going to an office everyday, running my own magazine, being what society generally defines as “successful”—wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I decided that I wanted to focus on my family and write from the suburban comfort of my home. As it turns out, that was the easy part. Figuring out what to do next? Not so much.

See, I always thought that I did everything for myself—I rarely sought others’ advice, and I never competed against anyone but me—but now I realize there was a part of me that had something to prove. Little Black girl from Cleveland makes good, and all that. Now, when I encounter old friends who haven’t been introduced to the new choosing-to-be-happy-every-day me, I feel a strange sense of relief in informing them that I’ve moved on. The scary trade-off is that I now feel a responsibility to myself that’s greater than I ever thought possible.

It’s not about hustling enough assignments to help pay bills, or selling books, or meeting deadlines. It’s bigger than that. It’s about redefining what success means for me. And that’s where my revelation of 2009 stopped short. I had discovered what I was passionate about and committed myself to spending some time with that happiness every day, but I’d given little thought to how that would look in 30 days, two years, a lifetime. I hadn’t considered the choices I’d have to make along the way, and hadn’t put together a plan to meet them, because somehow a plan was too much the province of the old me, the living my life on the page me.

I now know that I have to commit myself to figuring out what success means for me so I can be sure I’m not slipping off track. It’s only (and will forever only be) a working definition, but so far, it’s knowing that being blessed with the freedom to ponder this question is in itself a form of success. It’s being courageous in my faith that things will always go exactly the way they are supposed to, and being audacious in plotting my path to get there. It’s only taking on work that makes me smile—if I feel compelled to sigh when I talk about it, I shouldn’t be doing it. And it’s remembering that no matter how much I love my work, I love my family more, and they should get at least 51% of my time.

How do you define success? Has it changed over time? Are you there yet? Think you’ll ever get there? Share!


If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts below.

Last 5 posts by kenrya

  • Diane

    Hi you! I agree about the political spin and the nonsense –

    OK, so here’s what I pulled from your column:
    “…that things will always go exactly the way they are supposed to, and being audacious in plotting my path to get there.”

    This is what I’ve encountered and learned from: things will go exactly the way they are supposed to – but what we think this supposed place is may not be what will be/should be.

    Plotting and maneuvering get you just so far – but if you don’t stay tuned into life/energy/workings of all that surrounds you – you may lose important information about ‘where you should be…’ and end up elsewhere.

    All my ideas from when I was a kid, young adult have changed. All the teachings from older generations that I once held sacred, are no longer ‘the word.’ I was born during what I term the ‘great change’ – the time after the second great war, and after/during other conflicts – as we have not officially termed these things ‘wars’ by congressional act (insert a snicker). My generation has lived with conflict – saw it on TV. We were the first for this – not those who taught us. I was taught to respect elders, etc. while watching those in power crash and burn in lies and coverups – cheating scandals unearthed years after assassination. We weren’t spared uncensored, gritty reality – it smacked us daily. Nowadays it’s normal – but it wasn’t back then. Success for a female was still determined by old fashioned ideals of home/hearth/family – which the hippie generation messed with with ‘free love’ and no commitment …

    Flash forward to now – because I could go on forever:

    I no longer fret over what folks may think of my life – as long as I can look myself in the mirror, smile, and sleep a deep and contented sleep – I know I’m on the right path.

    As for terming success: in one sense living an honest life is success. Living within my means and being proud of this feat, is success. Having been published, is success. Taking chances and landing on my feet – success. Success on a grand scale lessens the daily success one can find in being authentic.

    OK, that was a tad lengthy – but it’s a great topic!

  • julie

    Your post makes me smile…in agreement…

    i too in sort of the same boat as you are, actually, exactly the same.

    I always depended on myself to fend and to concur. Surely, I became very good at it. I thought that success at work – is having a 9-5 and progressively achieve a high-ranking position at a prestigious large company… Until I got disillusioned with the industry and its antics… and the fact that being Art Director or Creative Director has very little to do with what you are able to do creatively and everything to do with politics at the office i.e. who you know, and whose ass you kissed right lately as well as becoming a sell out, resulting in complete abandonment of you creative and life principles…Unless you work for a small company and you don’t need to go where the wind blows at the moment…than you have a chance to be creative and have some control over what you do as a creative individual.

    My definition of success changed dramatically after realizing all that. My definition of success is – as long as you are happy with how your life turns out (whatever you might be doing at the moment), you are successful – you measure you against yourself, not against what other people think you should be or should be doing to be successful. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to have a “plan”, sometimes its good to live in the moment. Of course, be smart about it (save some money/keep your old business contacts alive etc). But fact of the situation is – i am much happier now bec of my realization. And so i’ll keep riding this wave until i can’t any more and than i will adjust to make myself happy again.

    For me, at the moment – happiness is to have a job that pays you well and you don’t need to invest your feelings in to it (yay to freelancing!!!), and pick up some passion projects that you really care about but might not pay you all that well. This is a right balance for my individual happiness at the moment. The only downside, i am overworked. But i get to do everything i want to do – travel, design and pay my bills, and have fun.