Good evening everyone!
This post falls into the vein of my occasional "musing about life" types of entries. So, what exactly does it mean to fail? And conversely, what does it mean to succeed? I imagine many of those reading this will feel that they have some pretty clear, concrete ideas on how they would define each of those two concepts.
We live in a culture (especially Western culture) where people are defined as either having led a good or bad life based on what they have achieved, aka how "successful" they are. Usually this is in relation to material goods or career success. Short of these things, we do not tend to pay much attention to the other attributes of ones life that may or may not be equally as powerful indicators of success. Some of them which in actuality, might be far greater indicators of success than money or reaching the top of the career ladder.
For example, what about the single mother who raises two or three children all by herself? Working hard to support them financially. Taking personal time to connect with and be close to each of them. Being a firm but loving parent who teaches good boundaries and good character. And each of those children turning out to be wonderful people. Is this not a successful life?
How about the person whose greatest life dreams are to travel and help others? So they spend their life exploring the world, never really having one stationary home base. Instead, moving frequently from place to place, not making much money but seeing the world, immersing themselves in different cultures, helping people (such as, assisting with rebuilding villages struck by poverty, teaching underprivileged children, volunteering at homeless shelters, helping protect abused animals, etc). Is that not a worthwhile, successful, wonderful life? Because they aren't rich and at the top of a career ladder.
How about the person who, instead of one romantic relationship over the course of the majority of their life (lets say a major one lasting at least 25-30 years), instead they have a small handful, lets say 4-6 of emotionally deep, meaningful, poignant, healthy, special romantic loves/relationships over the course of their life. Is that any less meaningful, less good, or less of a success than someone who has just the one? If a reader would argue that it is somehow less meaningful, less good or less of a success, why? Why is one of these romantic lives better than the other?
How about the poor poet who works a mediocre office job but spends her life publishing books of poetry, none of which are bestsellers, but which fulfills her deeply and brings immense meaning to her life. Is she a big, fat failure? Or even a shitty writer? Because none of them made it big. Plenty of phenomenal writers not only don't make it big but never get published at all. And conversely, a plethora of horrible writers are published every day, some of whom even go on to sell a lot of books (to name just a couple: My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart, It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, not all but the vast majority of Cecelia Ahern books, the Twilight books, Fifty Shades of Gray- all of these utter garbage, all of which sold a crap load of copies).
Or the couple who chooses not to have children. Choosing instead to adventure together. To cherish their friendships and prioritize those, as well as their close connection with each other. To travel the world. To love their siblings or friends children. To have pets together instead. Each having deep passions, hobbies and life purposes that bring them joy and satisfaction. Feeling as though in not having children that their lives are just as meaningful and wonderful. Why is this not a life equally as successful and fabulous as one in which a couple decides to have children?
(Important note: I am absolutely not saying that couples who do choose to have children do not treasure or want the things I just listed and described. Not at all. I imagine many of them want those things too, but with kids in the picture. That's a wonderful thing :-). I am just referring to the people who chose not to have them, for want of really focusing on that other stuff and not feeling as though being without children leaves their lives lacking).
I could continue giving examples all day, but I wont. My point is simply to illustrate that maybe the lens through which we view what makes a life "successful" or not could potentially be too narrow. Too judgemental. Too limited. Too pressurized. Possibly even too boring.
Might it be that there is a vast plethora, a kaleidoscope of colors and shades which can make a life successful, vibrant, fulfilled and amazing? Meaning, a success?
A second point on this same topic vein. We also live in a culture that tells us as long as one works hard, they can eventually be or achieve anything they wish. They can obtain the huge mansion, they can work their way to the top of the career ladder, they can become a famous singer on American Idol, or sell their screen play for millions of dollars, if only they sink enough hours, blood, sweat and tears into any of these ventures. This is a somewhat separate topic, but still worth noting.
The problem with this line of thinking is then of course, for the 95% of us normal citizens who do not reach these tip-top, epic levels of what we already narrowly define to be a life of "success," then these people are assumed to be (and labeled) as failures. As not having lived a life that amounts to much. And further, the blame is usually placed squarely on the individuals shoulders. As in, "you must not have worked hard enough for this," someone might say to them (or think). Or, things like "You just didn't try as hard as you could have. Otherwise, you would have reached the top."
This is of course majorly faulty thinking. Millions of people work incredibly hard and will never make it to the top tier of their desired destination for a myrid of assorted reasons (opportunity, chance favoring them or not, right place at the right time, inborn talent, etc). For more on this topic, check out the book Outliers by Malcome Gladwell. He dispells some of the myths I just outlined, regarding our false assumption that "success" (or not) lies in direct correlation with some of the points I made (such as, how hard we try, or how talented we are- which may or may not have any bearing on us making it to the top).
And finally, my last point. For the itty bitty percentage who do make it to the top tier, who do achieve the height of all that they hoped for, at what cost? And was it truly worth it? Were your priorities and actions really in line with a life that will bring you the deepest sense of joy, connection to others and fulfillment?