The Meaning of Success

What does “success” mean? What is the definition of “success”? If we look at the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary (my personal fave [it's normal to have a "favourite" dictionary, right?]), “success” means:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim; a favourable outcome (their efforts met with success).
  2. The attainment of wealth, fame, or position (spoiled by success)*.
  3. A thing or person that turns out well.

It’s a delightfully vague definition, which I think is indicative of the undeniable truth that success cannot be defined. There is no one version of “success.”

Cue anxiety attack from control freaks everywhere (ooh, ooh, me! Me! That’s me!).

Back in August 2013, about a month before I turned 25, “it” suddenly hit me, that I was an adult. My thought process went something like this:

Oh god.

I’m twenty-five.

What have I been doing with my life?

What is the meaning of life?

Why do humans exist?

What exists beyond Earth?

Why is my house only in order when people are coming over?**

Why don’t I have my f*cking sh*t together?

Do I have my sh*t together but just don’t know it?

What does it mean to have my sh*t together?

In other words, I had a quarter-life crisis. (Stereotypes, much?)

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking hasn’t quite gone away. I’m giving it a full year before I get really concerned.

biking and vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

birthday card

Birthday card from the sistertraveller. My reaction: OH NO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TURN 26??!! :)

 

 

Anyway, back to the meaning of success.

I guess I’ve been thinking about it a fair amount because I have reached that quarter-of-a-century mark. It’s a time when you start to really assess yourself and where you’re at in life. Time to quit messing around, as it were.

But here’s where I get confused: what exactly does it mean to “mess around”? How do you know that you’re taking life “seriously”? How do you know when you’re a success (or successful)?

I’m a rhetoric major. I love language and word use. Defining things is, one could say, part of my very nature. I need to know the answers to these kinds of things!

Frankly, it drives me nuts that I don’t know these types of answers. Working for a nonprofit (a.k.a SAVING THE WORLD!), being in a happy relationship (*MWAH* to Mr Science), having a definitive view on what I do and don’t want from life (do: see the world; don’t: have children), being decently financial stable (hurray for mortgages?), having relatively good health (kale salad once a week and walking 4 hours / week is the definition of healthy, right?), none of it is quite… enough. I still have that niggling feeling that I ought to be doing more, that I’m somehow failing and not where I ought to be at this stage.

Which is RIDICULOUS. I’m twenty-five, for goodness sake.

But at the same time… I’m not creating Google, or conducting open-heart surgery, or pulling people out of burning buildings.

We’re in this strange age (and by “age” I mean “period of time” rather than “stage of life”) of having to DO and BE everything, and if we don’t become astronauts or doctors, what’s the point?

We CAN do or be anything and everything.

And although I have ambition, one of the things that gives me the most pleasure is editing documents.

So maybe it’s not so much what I am currently doing and being, as much as what I want to do and be, that is my source of cognitive dissonance. In an age where discrimination is the devil, and gender / race / sexual orientation don’t face the same barriers they once did***, there’s this expectation that anyone who once might have been discriminated against should reach for the stars.

But what if we just want to edit?

What if technology (in the creating-Google-sense) isn’t exactly my thing, and science isn’t my forte, and being 5′ft tall means that pulling people from burning buildings isn’t a likely occupation for me?

They tell us to SHOOT FOR THE STARS. Cool beans. But is it okay if my *stars* (that is, EDITING!) are lower than what we conventionally think of?

And does that make me less ambitious? (This concept makes me shudder like crazy).

One COULD consider all of these questions to be depressing to the extreme, but really I’m just wondering where all of you stand on this. Are we facing impossible standards? Do we even understand, as a society, what “success” really MEANS?

If we are happy in our lives, if we are questioning things and curious about the way the world works and constantly learning, if we are doing what we love, is that okay? Is that enough? Is that *success*?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

*I’m not sure why, but the fact that the dictionary makes use of the Oxford comma (which I guess makes sense since it’s an Oxford dictionary) gave me much joy. Please tell me someone else shares in my language delights?

**Don’t ask my why my thought process went from existential crisis to it’s-all-about-me crisis. I’m narcissistic! (*face-palm*).

***Which is not to say that there aren’t ANY barriers – but certainly, I think we can all agree that the barriers are starting to break down, which is extremely exciting!

If you enjoyed the sistertraveller’s musings (see the images above), check out her seriously FANTASTIC blog at Dispatches from a Frontier. You will love it.

4 Comments

  1. Sagan,

    I perfectly understand what you went through. I myself had a little quarter-life crisis in which I wasn’t entirely happy with my career choice (I’m a computer scientist), and I began to doubt myself and what the rest of my life would be like. It was too hard, too boring and the thought of devoting my life to developing applications. Then I found statistics and simulation.

    Statistics, as a career, is generally frowned upon by colleagues, but I happen to love data manipulation and experiment designing. I’m great at it. So, while I’m happy for most of my friends, who are out there developing games and creating popular websites, I freelance with a small group of friends and do statistics analysis for the banking industry. I may not have a steady income, but I have a job that makes me feel happy.

    Quarter-life crisis is something we all go though, I guess. And we may not be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, but the important thing is: we don’t have to. We are allowed to be ourselves, exploit our talents and be successful in other ways. Being successful starts with being happy with who you are and what you do. You can take it from there. I wish you best of luck, Sagan.

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