What Success Is

“Well, bless my soul
You’re a lonely soul
‘Cause you won’t let go
Of anything you hold
Well, all I need
Is the air I breathe
And a place to rest
My head.”
-OneRepublic, “Say All I Need”
It seems like everybody wants to be rich and prosperous. It’s the American Dream. Just look and listen. People are killed or injured on Black Friday (ironically the day after we give thanks for what we have) trying to scramble for better, bigger deals. Cozy homes are demolished and replaced by mansions. There is constant griping about taxes, stocks, and the economy. As a society, we are constantly bustling, at a breakneck pace, up the golden staircase towards success.
I feel like an outsider, sitting at the bottom of that staircase and gazing at the sky. My sky doesn’t glitter with the stars of ambition. It isn’t painted with fantasies of money and extravagance, no; my sky is vast and clear. It is a mirror of the free life I dream of living. I want time to wander about, to leave home not knowing where I’m going or when I’ll come back. I want mornings for my slumber, days for my writing, and nights for my pondering. I will never be rich and glamorous, and I will never embody the American Dream, but my soul will be filled beyond measure, overflowing with a satisfaction that cannot be found at the top of a golden staircase.
The staircase, in all truth, leads to nowhere. With each stair step climbed, another is created. The success it offers does not exist. It is cannot be satisfied by tangible means. It’s a subjective fantasy, a mental construct that both taunts and entices. Society pants for success, but its inflated image of what success actually is is what’s starving them. It’s never satisfying. People fill their bellies with more emptiness.
They’re hungry for immaterial things–love, meaning, companionship, and happiness. Everybody has a cavernous void of need within them, and the truest, most beneficial journey of self-preservation is learning to fill it. A need for friendship cannot be satisfied with money. A lack of meaning cannot be filled with promotions and vacation houses. Those desires call for reflection and evaluation. What do they really want? Why do they want it? How can they truly feel fulfilled? Abandoning the dependency on money and material possessions brings peace for a lonely heart, and searching one’s heart brings serenity to a chaotic life.
I am a girl who wants an honest existence, a girl who creates her own American Dream. I do not ache for glitz and glamour. I am whole in myself. I am at peace with my mind and my needs. What greater success is there than what lies within self-revelation, simplicity, and personal meaning? I cannot think of anything else that is capable of filling the soul’s void.
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Honor & Choices

School will get you into colleges, send you on your way to a lucrative career, and make you look smart, but it can’t do anything for your honor. Just as you have to work hard in school, you must actively pursue your sense of honor in order to live a true life of honesty. What’s the point of getting ahead in life if all you did was use other people’s hard work to be successful? You have to evaluate what’s important to you and why you’re attempting success in the first place. I would rather be a failing student with a strong sense of honesty than a Harvard valedictorian with a diploma and a heart full of lies. In life, you have to make choices. As for me, I will choose honor and character–which grow and bloom forever, if cultivated–over a wrinkled, yellowing report card with a few pretty A’s stamped on it.

How To Fail

Life is an ice rink, and we’re all children trying to learn how to skate. There will be stretches of fast, smooth gliding–and plenty of tripping. Enough bloggers have written about “the key to perfection” and “secrets to success”. It’s time to learn how to fall and how to fail. 

First off, we must expect to fail and accept that failure is not a sign of personal weakness. Assuming that a new skater will be able to glissade across smooth ice as soon as her skates have been tied is simply unrealistic. It doesn’t matter how old you are–we’re always being exposed to fresh circumstances. Would you scold a little child for falling on the ice? Of course not! Refuse to treat yourself badly. Say nothing to or about yourself that you wouldn’t say to your dearest loved one.

Next, we learn how to fall. Have you ever taken skating lessons? There are techniques you must learn that will ensure falling safety. Such is true in life. One of the best things I’ve learned to do is come up with a list of ways to cope with sadness and disappointment to avoid resorting to self-hatred. Spend time with yourself. Run a hot bath, light some candles, and listen to some Debussy (an hour of Debussy here). Take a walk and engage your sense of smell. Do anything that relaxes you and lightens your mood. This way, you’ll know what to do when you fail.

Finally, take a look around the skating rink. Observe the ice. Pay attention to the skaters in your proximity. What caused you to fall? Was it just a bump in the road of life? Did somebody slam into you, shaking up your world? Once you’ve examined and reflected, it’s time to take action. All action requires getting back up. You cannot stay sprawled out on the rink. It’s dangerous–you could get hit in the head by a blade of hopelessness. Who are the skaters closest to you, and what are they doing? Are they holding on to your arm and pulling you down? Will they disparage you in your learning process? Avoid these skaters. Surround yourself with those who care about you. Those who will forgive you and love you, despite your flaws. 

Most of all, keep on skating. You’ll get the hang of it soon. And when you do, it will be glorious–you will jump and pirouette like never before.

 

 

Perfectionism destroys.

At the start of every summer, I make a mental list of all the things I’m going to be during the next school year. I get this image of a perfect, confident, straight-A, beautiful, helpful young woman. Every time. When September comes, I follow through with it–for a few weeks. Then school and/or life problems become too overwhelming, and I have to refocus my energy. By the end of the year, I look back and feel disappointed with myself and the girl I did not become. And so the cycle begins again.

But earlier this year, in June, I was determined to be that girl. I was going to do it! I was! So when September started, I hit the ground running. I kept running. The only way to succeed was, in my eyes, to set my expectations for myself unattainably high. So I never lived up to my own standards. As soon as I started coming close, I’d raise the bar just out of reach.
It crushed me.

I need something or someone to blame for my predicament, because I’m so sick of blaming myself. Because I don’t really believe in blaming other people, that rules out the someone. I’m going to blame perfectionism. But who brought on the perfectionism? I did. It was me. See? As soon as I try to find another reason, I realize that it really is my fault.

Perfectionism is such a trap. It’s only a matter of time before it leads to defeat. How frustrating it is to keep jumping, jumping high for a bar that will never be in reach. It would defeat anyone. Who wants to keep trying for something that will never be reached? All I really want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep all day, because there’s no way to fail at that. I am so sick of failure. In other people’s eyes, I was great, but I never gave myself the grace to admit it. To me, everything I did was falling short. Now look where I am. I used to live by a quote: “If you shoot for perfection, you will reach excellence.” But no! Well, yes. I did do well. But I got tired of goals just out of view, just out of reach. And then the will to keep shooting dies out, the stamina dwindles. Why try if nothing I do will ever be enough? But, like I said earlier, perfectionism is a trap. And once one’s brain is there, it’s next to impossible to get it out. So I’m sitting, with no more strength left in my bones to keep jumping, so my grades start to slip. Little by little–it’s gradual. My brain is still trapped in perfectionism, so trying to let myself lower the bar is like trying to swallow sand, but I haven’t got anything left to keep jumping as high as I did. I can only reflect on how terribly I’m doing.

Don’t let perfectionism trap you. Don’t ever let it trap you. Set your bar high, but never out of reach. I’m telling you, don’t jump into this whirlpool. It’s no way to achieve anything.

Pond of Dreams

This world is a selfish, selfish place. We’re all fish in a pond fighting for resources, success, and power. Everyone has an agenda, a main goal in life that they will do anything to achieve. Some people go about achieving this goal in a kind, passive sort of manner, while others are not afraid to trample and kick to get what they want. Still others use kind hearts and generous gifts to manipulate circumstance to their advantage.

My dreams get washed away in this cut-throat pond. I have to constantly be on the move, searching amidst the darkened waters and debris of the past to find pieces of glittering diamond. Maybe one day I’ll be able to piece them all together and achieve. I don’t want to be the only fish without a treasure.

It’s a race, really. I’d prefer to just live in a cave and pick berries for food, but I can’t. So, with my present circumstances, I set my personal bar very high. Unattainably high, to be honest. Setting the bar too low will result in laziness or complacency. Of course, setting it too high results in constant feelings of inadequacy, but you know. It’s a small fee to pay for the price of success in the pond of dreams.