I have this crazy need to be SUCCESSFUL. Nope, not just successful, but the version in all caps. I want my books to be New York Times best sellers. I want my Etsy shop to be visited by hundreds of people a day. I want my blog to have a circulation in at least five figures.
At times I have thought that some MBA-type person could crack the code to SUCCESS if he/she were in my shoes, but that I’m just too dumb to do so. At times I have thought that if I just double down and try a little harder, the desired outcome would be mine.
Feeling this way, a recent article by Washington Post advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, spoke to me. Someone wrote her to say that he had been a bright child. He felt this gave him the “inescapable responsibility” to be perfect at everything. If he could not pull this off – and he could not – he felt it was his own fault for being lazy and squandering his talents. Even when others commented upon all he had accomplished, he considered it trivial as compared to all that he should have accomplished. Clearly, this guy wants the validation of success-in-all-capital-letters.
Carolyn Hax offered this guy – and me – three great tidbits to ponder.
We need to consider the odds
She reminds him that with “7! Point! 9! (ish) billion people on Earth,” it is insanity to expect yourself to be Special.
This is a wonderful reality check! I don’t invest ten bucks in the Mega Millions lottery because the odds of winning are so small, so why do I invest my self-esteem in the SUCCESS lottery where the odds of winning are even smaller as I compete with the entire world?
We must remember that not all things are under our control
She humorously lists these requisites for becoming Special:
- Born talent
- Work invested
- Focus held
- Planets aligned
- And “the incredible dumb luck of anyone’s finding just the right outlet for their talents.”
Her last point is most interesting. She goes on to say, “A great New York Times piece by Michael Sokolove posed this question back in Michael Phelps’s prime [Phelps holds 23 Olympic gold medals in swimming]: What if he had imagined himself a basketball player instead? In that case, he would just be another sort of tall guy sitting on the bench – one with no idea that he had missed his true calling.”
The Michael Phelps example is perhaps extreme, but think of those who have a degree in law but do not wish to practice law. Or think of those with multiple degrees in disparate fields, and you’ll realize how much luck is involved in finding the best outlet for our talents.
I distill this into a third tidbit to ponder:
It can take a long time to uncover our talents and figure out how best to use them
I am sixty-nine years old, and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Am I a writer? Or a quilt artist? Or at this stage in life, should I just be a Mom and Marmel to my kids and grandkids?
To answer these questions, I turn to an old friend, Jim Lakewind. His advice is probably twenty-five years old, and proves that I have long struggled with this SUCCESS problem. Back then, as I ached for fame as a PUBLISHED AUTHOR and/or as a PROFESSIONAL QUILTER, he said, “Stop calling yourself names!” He said that when I gave myself the pressure of being a “PUBLISHED AUTHOR” or “PROFESSIONAL QUILTER,” I squeezed all the fun out of writing and sewing. He encouraged me to find the joy instead.
When I write a text message, it is considered shouting for me to write in all caps, so I realize that there has been a whole lot of shouting going on in my head through the last decades. Thanks to Carolyn Hax and Lakewind, the din subsides and allows me to realize all I have done.
I am grateful for having books in print, for a functioning Etsy shop, and for a website/blog that is up and running. But more important, I am grateful for not only figuring out some activities that bring me joy, but for actually doing them.
A new year beckons. I move forward with my new mindset and with my three fun hobbies: writing, quilting, and grand-mothering, hoping the planets align to bring me joy.