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What is the nature of success?

How do you know if you’ve “made it”? What even is “it”?

Do you have to have a traditional career to be successful? If so, you need to know what that career is pretty early on, and even then, unless your family can afford to send you to college, you’re shit out of luck. Once you’re out of college, it’s a complete crap-shoot about getting a job that can lead into a career, unless you win the Major choice lottery. Many jobs aren’t even structured to let you work your way up anymore; you can’t get into a good company and just work there for your entire career the way our grandparents (let’s face it, actually our grandfathers) did, or even like our parents did, to a lesser extent. So if you have to have a traditional career to be successful… well, the odds are not good.

But don’t lose hope! Why should success be tied to a thing, anyway? A career is just another way of saying that you’ve lived your life by “the rules” and have reaped the benefit of that. But there’s not a lot of benefit there now, so why even bother? I say that is not success.

Do you have to make a ton of money to be successful? If you’re the next Bill Gates, does that mean you’re successful? If so, not many people are allowed to be successful. There’s not much room for Bill Gateses. It feels a little like the Mormon version of heaven: if you win the heaven lottery, you get in, otherwise, no matter what you do, you’re doomed. I don’t think success is such a limited thing. Maybe you just need to be well off? Own a house? um… what *is* well off, anyway? Maybe it’s being able to live on one parent’s income? But what about single people or people who don’t have/want kids? What if both partners would rather not work full time? Maybe success isn’t about money? We can always do with more money, basically until we’re Mr. Gates and I already decided that I refuse to believe that I must be him to be successful, so… let’s say it’s not money. Or, at any rate, it’s not about having LOTS of money.

Ok, so it’s not a career, or lots of money. Maybe it’s not job related at all! Maybe it’s about finding your One True Love! Weeellll… Hold on a second. I married a wonderful man, and I’m very happy in my marriage, but he’s not my OTL. I don’t actually believe in OTLs. I believe we can and do love many people over the course of our lives, and I believe that we can love multiple people at the same time, and that we can act on that love ethically and have multiple relationships at once. So, while I married a wonderful man, I am also seeing a sweet, darling man who has very little in common with my husband, and a tall adorable man who has the unfortunate property of living on another continent. Since I do love more than one person at a time, and I don’t believe there is such a thing as OTL, then finding your One True isn’t success. Especially since some people don’t WANT to get married, or have a live in partner. And, really, we don’t tend to do well with only our spouse around. We need friends and other social contact, too. So, not that, then.

I think we’re on to something with the “not job related” thing, though. And I think it might still be related to relationships. I wonder… everything we’ve talked about so far is probably *somebody’s* definition of success. My mother feels that she was successful in her life because she was able to be a stay at home mom and she raised her kids right (she feels a little like I’m stopping her from total success, though, because I don’t want to give her grandbabies). I think my sister is successful because she has a career she likes (mostly) and it pays her well, and she’s just bought a house. My mom thinks she’s not successful because she’s not married. Mom thinks *I’m* not successful, despite my marriage, because I don’t have kids. I definitely know people who feel that they must be wildly rich to be successful.

So if there are all these different things, then what if everybody’s wrong? Not everybody can be right, right? Well, sort of. I think that behind everyone’s definition of success is another layer, and I believe that layer is the same. I think that we all want to be happy, and our definition of success is the thing we think will make us happy. For me, being happy looks like… what? What does it look like for you? Do you know? Give it some thought, and let me know what your definition of success might be.

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I really like the concept of being an explorer, but what does that mean, these days?

I went hiking this weekend with a group of self-proclaimed explorers; to them, it meant venturing into the unknown in good spirits and taking whatever was thrown at them in equally good spirits.  Unknown wasn’t quite literal, of course.  We were on a well used trail and encountered a lot of other people on our hike.  But very few of this group are experienced hikers, and nobody had ever done this particular hike before, and so nobody quite knew what we were getting into.  I at least knew some folks who’d done the trail before, so I brought extra food and water and was assuming we’d be out for quite some time.

The trail is a loop that took us a good 7 hours.  I think most of the party would have been glad to be done at around the halfway point; certainly that’s when people started running out of water.  We are apparently all foodies, though, because almost everyone brought extra food to share with the group, which I thought was rather cool.  Also, nobody shied away from trying my weird pickled cherries.  Explorers indeed!

When folks started running out of water, I was pretty sure the hike was going to become a lot less fun.  Miserable people are miserable to hike with, after all, and the trail was pretty strenuous.  I do hike pretty regularly, and go backpacking several times a year, and the trail was kicking my ass pretty hard; we hiked on Saturday and now, on Monday, my legs are still so sore that it hurts to move, and I think I was probably one of the more out-doorsey people in the group, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if morale had tanked and people had been unhappy and grouchy.  But nobody was.  We got quieter, but everyone seemed to remain in good spirits, and certainly nobody was overtly grouchy.  Most people seemed to be making an effort to be cheerful and encouraging, and there was much talk of explorers not really knowing what they were in for, but making a solid go of it anyway.

I have been on hikes that were not nearly so strenuous where people got grouchy, and it was extremely unpleasant.  I was expecting some people to get grumpy, because it would have been completely justified, and because our group was so large it was basically inevitable.  I was all set to be encouraging and helpful and cheerful and do my best to keep morale high.  Evidently, so was everyone else.  I don’t think I’ve ever done a hike with people who were in such universally good spirits, and I know I’ve never been on such a strenuous hike with people who were in such universally good spirits.  It was an entirely lovely experience.  I am so impressed with the group.  The hike was longer than advertised, hotter and much more steep than expected, and yet, everyone seemed determined to have fun, and that made all the difference.

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Close your eyes and leap.

The first time is always the hardest.  There’s this pressure to do something daring, and wonderful, and of course, to get it right straight out of the gate.  Well, that never happens, so I just try to make a start, any start.

On OKC, my favorite “first date” activity is to grab coffee together.  It’s perfect; I bring a book and show up a bit early to find a pleasant spot and  get settled.  I like to have my coffee already when my date shows up because I hate the “who pays” argument.  I know that it’s hard for everyone, because there’s so many annoying societal expectations, so I just jump the gun and get my own coffee.  And if they don’t show up, well, no worries.  I have a book and now I’m going to have a lovely hour or so reading and sipping my coffee.  If they show and it’s horrible, well, I drink my coffee quickly, and then “Well, that was interesting, nice to meet you, bye!”  But if it goes *well*, aaaaah, this is the beautiful part.  If it goes well, and we linger over our coffee, it’s easy to suggest a short walk, or that we grab dinner, or otherwise extend things.

It isn’t unusual for me to suggest “coffee” as an activity, rather than literally getting a cup of coffee.  I often have chai or hot chocolate because my coffee dates are usually in the afternoon and honestly I’ve usually had quite enough caffeine for the day by the time they roll around.  I just like the activity of “getting coffee”.  I like cafes as spaces where nobody has to host, where I can be social and have reasonable expectation of social backup should I need it.  I tend to go to the same cafe for my first dates; they know me there, and give me a hard time when I forget my wallet (this happens way too often).  I enjoy sitting alone in a cafe reading, or sitting and talking, or sharing a snack.  I grab coffee with my partners, with my coworkers, with my dates and with my friends.  It’s a lovely, casual, flexible activity and chance to be social and take a break from our day.

Once I started looking at first dates as a chance to hang out in a coffee shop and have an interesting conversation, they started being a lot more fun.  It’s pretty hard to fail when the goal is to have a cuppa and either read a book or have a chat with a new person.  I’ve even had someone show up an hour late for a date and still catch me because I was still reading; it turned out to be a pretty good date, despite his tardiness.

Expectations are part of what makes the First Times so terrifying.  The “What if?”s are killer.  So change the definition of “success”.  It’s not “Have an awesome date and meet the new love of my life!” because, seriously, who can possibly live up to that? but instead “Have a pleasant afternoon in a coffee shop.”  Success doesn’t have to be huge.  You don’t have to own half of New York to be successful.  You can work two hours a day and make just enough to get by, and be truly successful.  To me, I succeeded if I enjoyed the activity, or learned something.  All of the relationships that I’ve had where we broke up?  Those were successful.  I learned something from each one, and they were fun for a while.  That’s success.  My marriage didn’t make that relationship a success.  Success is a destination, a finale, and I sincerely hope that I’m not done with this road yet.