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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.