Feeling Successful

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve accomplished some large goals that I thought would change my life.  But once they were finished, I still felt the same.  Nothing had really changed.    Worse, I would often feel like a failure during the process of pursuing a goal, because it was taking me so long to get there.   

This got me thinking: if working on and meeting my goals wasn’t making me happy, maybe I should change something so I felt successful.  But what should I change?

When I was a kid, I had a watercolor painting on my wall of a girl riding a unicorn.  (I can’t believe I’m admitting to this; my inner tomboy is still cringing).  Around the girl was a plethora of adorably caricatured animals, including a cartoon duckling that appeared to be her best friend.  It even had a rainbow arching over said unicorn, and was framed with lavender matting —not purple, but lavender.  Over the entire happy scene was written the cliché: “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”  It was quite possibly the cheesiest thing I have ever owned, but it was also my favorite painting.  I kept it because as a child, the idea of a journey conjured up images of grand adventures and travel—two things that I daydream about to no end.  

As it turns out, I still have that childhood painting; I found it last month while sifting through an old pile of artwork.  Seeing it again made we think once more about journeys. Not just the grand adventure kinds, though; I was unhappy because I hadn’t reached my “success” destination.   It was clichéd, but: what if success was a journey, and not a destination? 

A day is successful if you work on what you value—no matter how well you do it.

I kind of liked this idea.  So success is not who you are or what you’ve done.  It’s what you’re doing.  From this perspective, a day is successful if you work on what you value—no matter how well you do it.  No need to try and define when you’ve reached success, or feel bad because you aren’t there yet.  All I had to do was, well, what I already wanted.  

Personally, I value my art and my relationships above anything else.  So any day that I write, model, or play the piano is a successful one.  So is one that I spend quality time with my boyfriends, tribe, best friends, or just have an honest connection with someone.  These are the things I feel are important—If I’m pursuing them, I’m doing things right. 

There’s no need to be competitive about it either.  I don’t have to write something better than anybody else.  I don’t even have to write something better than I did yesterday.  I don’t need these “metrics” of success; I just need to sit down and do what I care about.  

Spending time doing what I cared about made me happier.  Especially when I didn’t worry whether it was “good enough” or not.  And interestingly, when I was happier, I tended to work more.  I would write more, model more, and spend more time with the people I loved.  Because I did more, I was practicing more.  And because I practiced more, I got better—far better than I did when I was worrying about being better in the first place. All of the energy I had been spending on worrying was going right back into productivity.  It was a silly little mental hack, but it worked.  

I stopped worrying about my journey being too slow, too.  Success is not a destination, I would tell myself.   It’s not the shortest and quickest route between two points either.  Are you journeying?  Are you spending your time on what you value?  Then good.  You’re doing fine.  

And I now have a constant reminder that success is how I’m spending my time, not what I’ve accomplished or how quickly I’m doing it.  I’m hanging that painting up again.