What Is Success?

I wonder if I could be considered a successful adult. There are times when I’ve doubted the choices I’ve made and wonder if I’ve made the wrong choices. Did those choices I made along the way keep me from “success”?

And this got me thinking…

What is success?

I think, for many, success is measured in dollars.  The more money you have in the bank, the more successful you are.  The easier it is for you to pay your bills, the more successful you are.  Can you buy more things? Go more places? Do more activities? Congratulations, you are successful. Money equals happiness.

To follow this logic a little further, if you are to be a successful parent your children’s future lives as adults must also fit into this definition of success. You need to push your kids, spend your money on the best lessons and activities and schools for them.  Make sure they apply to the best and most expensive universities. Make sure they do whatever it is they need to do to have the best job that makes the most money because THAT is success. That’s happiness.

But here’s the thing…

I don’t believe that.

Okay, okay, yes. I agree that financial security is important. I agree that hard work, internal motivation, and grit are important. I, of course, want my children to grow to be hard workers, motivated to persevere despite any challenge, and strong (mentally and physically) human beings. I want them to find a career that makes them enough money to comfortably live and raise a family.  I want to be able to live comfortably and continue to raise MY family. But I refuse to measure success so narrowly. And I will never push my children to do something that makes them unhappy simply because it MIGHT mean they will be more “successful” in the future.

And this is why…

The people in my life who have more money than me don’t seem to be much happier than me. They hate their jobs. They struggle with their mental health. Their marriages may have crumbled.  Their children are struggling in school or with their behavior. They have many physical ailments to manage.  In other words, money is not buying their happiness.  Money is not shielding them from all of the problems and challenges the rest of us might have to face. And in some cases, that money they are working so hard to make? That’s what’s getting in their way.

Success in my eyes, therefore, is not JUST financial security.  I also don’t believe that success means you must check off every item on a long list of factors.  Rather, success is in your own mind. Happiness is a state only you can achieve by ignoring the voices and opinions of others and ignoring THEIR definitions of success.  You find your happiness any way you choose.

Did I make choices that impacted my financial success? Sure did.  I chose to marry a man I love, regardless of what his financial future was going to be.  I chose to work in a profession that I’m proud of even though it is one of the lowest paid careers in our country. I chose to support my husband’s dream, even if it was risky, because no one ever had. I chose to have three very expensive kids because I’m a good mother and I wanted a house full of little lives to care for. I choose to spend our money doing things that make us laugh and smile, things that taste good, and make us feel good rather than on stylish furniture, fancy clothes, and central air conditioning.

Am I successful? Sure am.  I have a long-lasting relationship that has weathered financial, medical, and other personal stresses. I have three amazing children who are clothed, fed, and having fun living this life we’ve created for them. My husband and I are aging somewhat gracefully into our forties with minor medical issues to manage. I go to work and make a difference in someone’s life EVERY DAY.  Not just some days. Every day.  And I smile and laugh at work every day. EVERY. DAY. I get to write my heart out among this amazing community of women using this talent and passion to inspire and help others. A talent that I never thought would see the light of day.  A talent of mine that was never encouraged…because it won’t make me any money…until I met the founder of CT Working Moms. A meeting that wouldn’t have ever happened if I had made different choices along the way.

Are my children going to be successful? Well. It’s too soon to tell.  I will say, however, that I will not encourage them to apply to the best and most expensive universities.  I will not discourage a dream or interest of theirs because it may not make them the most money.  Instead, I will focus on their happiness, right now.  I’ll encourage them to try things and foster their talents with whatever money I can spare. If they are doing something that makes them unhappy? They can be done. Childhood is too short to spend any of it miserable.  I’ll expose them to all different types of careers and pathways to financial security. I will not push them to make decisions when they aren’t sure. Will they need to work hard and stay motivated? Yep. Will they need to find a way to make some money? Of course.  But they will never be pushed out of our house and they will be given every chance to make their adult lives happy….their definition of happiness.  Not mine.

I think we are all doing the best we can. I know I do my best not to judge others who make different choices from mine.  It’s hard.  It’s even harder when I feel others’ judgments crushing down on me. I’m human and I’m sensitive and sometimes I feel those icky emotions of resentment and jealously. When given a moment to reflect, though, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in this life. I’m a successful adult.  Look at me over here, successfully adulting! And, I’m proud of others who are doing their definition of successful adulting next to me, even if it looks different from my life.  All I truly wish for anyone is happiness…whatever that looks like to them.

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