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!


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