I’ve always been confused about what success looks like and how to define it, but lately I’ve considered thinking about what it feels like.
On paper, I fair well in the success race, with many material trappings representing the hard work. I have qualifications that demand a great rate of pay and every so often I can post pictures on facebook of the customary holiday in the sun. So in the words of Karen Carpenter I should be on “Top of the World”. A few months ago this “success” didn’t feel too great. I was waking up literally dreading my day and when I came to terms with that it started to creep over into the evening. I didn’t want to go to bed because I knew sleep led to the daily dread.
This “success” matches the aspirations I set myself in the 1970s, when it was common for some teachers to tell us how unsuccessful we’d become if we didn’t work hard or weren’t clever enough. Certain roles in society were derogatively referred to. Living on a council estate with a single parent, also prompted judgement from those who confuse being better people with having better circumstances. There are two key takeaways here... how we define success and how we attach it to our own sense of self worth. Self worth is not defined by our career or material possessions; neither should it be defined by the views of others.
So to achieve success we cultivate a life in which we feel content and fulfilled.
My early aspirations led to continuous striving, a trait that drives perfectionism and has led to burn out. This constant striving prompted me to embark on the mindfulness bases stress reduction course and it was through mindfulness that I learnt to experience contentment. This process also taught me to recognise thought patterns and beliefs that undermine contentment. It is my own experience of the practice that has taken me down this route of teaching and blogging. As I sit writing at my desk I do feel content and fulfilled. In fact, I’m seriously toying with the idea of being this person I am today.
However, there is another small piece of this puzzle. A couple of weeks ago I also began journaling using a lovely diary “The Way of the Tortoise”.
Whilst I have only used the journal for a couple of weeks it has given me three amazing insights.
1) Gratitude: My all time desire to spend my day doing something that feels meaningful, and to work in the way I choose, is already here. Unfortunately it took a while to notice as we have a human tendency to focus on what we are missing rather than what we have.
2) Daily Goals: I approached the daily goals with caution. Having periods of anxiety and burn out made be sceptical about my old habit of making lists and it also seemed contrary to the concept of being mindful or just being. However, with much soul searching I realised that I thrive on lists! Getting numerous ideas out of my head onto paper really helps and there is a tremendous amount of positive energy generated from achieving these small tasks.
3) Hardwired Beliefs: There is a paradox in achieving the dream to work at something you love – when it doesn’t feel like work – how do you justify it and enjoy the real down time? Whilst I realise this is a hard-wired belief, it was undermining my ability to enjoy this sense of freedom - quite the reverse of what I wanted. Until I can sort out the belief! - I have a simple timesheet. I’ve defined my ideal working week and I track my time. The hours fly by and I know when I’ve completed my working week.
So on the level of contentment and fulfilment, I am enjoying life and hoping that in some small way, I can inspire others to do the same.
Picture courtesy of tinybuddah.com