I used to think success was measured by landmarks. A certain grouping together of things achieved. I also made a false connection between success and happiness. As if one were related to the other? As if....
I had a child when I was young. I hadn't planned her, though I am glad she came. I hadn't planned much. What was there to plan? The first thing I did when I looked at her, all wrapped up in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit. We were both running high fevers when she was born) was begin making plans. I would be successful. I would be happy. I had to make lists.
I mapped out my life as if it were a novel, never knowing I was a secret novelist. In truth, it was my first book, this life I have now. Here is a list I took out of my journal from the time right after she was born. February 1994. Anyone remember the snow? I do.
- Find her a daddy (anyone can be a donor. I need a DADDY for this sweet thing)
- Buy her a house (by the ocean?) white picket fence, all the trimmings
- A dog
- A full time job teaching (so I can be with her)
First I finished school (cum laude thank you very much!) and I walked across that stage with a toddler on my hip.
Then I met Bill, who fell in love with her first and me second. She made the choice, and what a choice she made. I am forever in her debt. Daddy, check.
Then I received a scholarship to get my Masters/PhD from Fordham university. I packed her up and off we went. I was able to teach after that. Full time job teaching, check.
Then Bill asked me to marry him. And then we bought a house. By the ocean. I insisted we put up a fence (for the dog of course) House with all the trimmings, check.
It took me seven years to complete my list. And success was mine! Or was it? And happiness was mine! Or was it?
The night before we moved in to our cute little house, I had one more chore. I went there alone to wash down the wooden stairs with Murphy's Oil Soap. We tore up yucky carpet the day before, and I knew I could make those beauties shine with just a bit of elbow grease. Bill wasn't so sure. I was out to PROVE a point.
It was going well. I was almost to the top. Washing and brushing and waxing and wiping. It was tiring, and late.
I sat on one of the top steps to rest and look down at my work. And that was when it hit me. And I almost fell down the stairs. It didn't matter. I was still the same me that I was at the beginning of my journey. Still stubborn, still defensive, still moody, still living on the verge of rage at every moment. Still teetering on happy. How could it be? How could I have done everything on my list and still not be the me I thought I would be at the end? The happy me? The fulfilled me? What?
I realized I needed a revision. And the revision was much more difficult than the first draft. Success doesn't equal happiness. Happiness doesn't equal success. Happiness is something you work hard at, every day. Success is more subjective, more like luck with a pinch of persistence (or the other way around)
Nothing on my list had anything to do with me. It was all geared towards other people and other things. Sure, I was the beneficiary of all those sweet and tidy wishes... but where was the me in all of it? I wasn't there. But I was on the stairs. And I had no choice.
At that moment the main character that is me emerged and began to grow. It took another seven years or so, but I would have to say that I am on the map of my own life now. I am no longer in survival mode. I am on coast. And boy, do I LOVE the coast!
What about you? Ever made some big plans that you realize later were merely survival techniques, not plans? Funny how that happens. What a luxury it is to get past that and onto real dreaming.