I’m responding to a blog post I read the other day. Allison Marie Conway wrote the following around the topics of success, ambition, creativity, and spirituality in a post entitled “I’m Chewing Stale Gum Successfully – Can We Please Talk About Ambition Now?”:
I guess I’m developing narcoleptic tendencies around the word success. It seems to have been putting me to sleep lately, all the use and overuse of the word ‘success’ and everything, everywhere, all the time.[…] The numbers and the stats and the ranks and the followers and the attention and all those figures that we too often accept by default as marks of what we traditionally call ‘success’ are fine but quite honestly at the moment, I’m over it.[…] It’s like the piece of chewing gum you’ve gnashed every last bit of worthwhile juice out of. It was freshly inviting at first and enjoyable for the first few hundred munches, but now it tastes more than a little bit like the underside of a cardboard box. (One might imagine.)
If I met you at a cocktail party (gosh I would seriously so love that!) I would not be all that interested in hearing about numbers that somehow rank you in some kind of obscure success-shelving system. I would, however, love to hear about what stealthy initiatives you have going and about what invisible-ness [sic] you imagine moves you toward the otherwise daunting blank canvas. I’d especially love to hear you talk about the way you create your music or your poetry or your designs. I’d be enthralled to learn about what ideas came to you and how and why you molded your thing the way you did. I’d lean in tight to hear about how you got mixed up and pushed around and then back on your feet again as you tried to get your art out just the way you envisioned it. I’d love to know why any of it matters to you; what shifts inside you when you do your creative thing. What keeps you coming back?
Stale gum: who would have thought that lump of plastic would lead to inspiration and introspection? Where Allison is discussing creativity, she is also discussing life and happiness. What measures we track ourselves with, how we compare ourselves to the outside world, indicate our happiness levels. These measures are artificial, however, and happiness does not equal success. To the contrary, happiness is success.
Meaningless measurements include grades, job titles, salaries, popular votes, or any externality that assigns a rank to ourselves, a comparison against others, subjective values that place worth on our existence.
We can only be compared to ourselves, to the evolving person that G-d wants us to be. Admission that we are imperfect — but can make constant progress toward improving ourselves — is the first step to happiness.
What elusive measure is success? I don’t buy into it. Rather, I think in terms of being fortunate, being satisfied, and improving my little corner of humanity. By these measures I reap success and satisfaction in so many ways.
- Standing in a long grocery store line is a time to exercise patience. Success.
- When I get off the bus I thank the driver… and mean it; he got me to my destination safely. Success.
- The old lady in the crosswalk smiled because I complimented her hairstyle. Success.
- I will make you laugh to lighten a sober mood. Success.
- I see beauty in a raindrop hanging off a leaf. Success.
- When you mourn I will sit with you and share your sorrow. Success.
- I can be happy for you when you marry off a child or get a new car. Your good fortune is reflected in my eyes because I despite that I am not blessed in the same manner. I don’t have to have what you have to be satisfied. Success.
- I raised children who are loving, caring, thinking and civilized beings. Big Success!
Having a good name and a good eye are the only measures of my life that will have any lasting impact. Others can make a difference by grand inventions or forging peace treaties. Me? I just take care of my own corner … with a smile. And with this, I choose Happiness.