Defining Success And Who You are On Your Own Terms
Living Happy Round Up
Why is it that people you barely know think it's okay to criticize your basic personality, especially after a couple glasses of wine?
This is a question that always gets me.
For instance, all the way back when I was in graduate school, I was hanging out in the lounge of the dorm with some other writers and maybe I was and still am (cough) a little bit (a-hem) self-deprecating. I have a heavy Canadian influence and I’m not into talking about myself or talking myself up.
Yes, I know! I know! There’s no money in modesty as a Rotarian once told me, but for me? There’s peace in it. And peace is more important.
Back to the story.
While in the lounge, three other graduate students began insisting that I should not be self-deprecating and that my self-deprecation is a choice (it definitely is) and that I should stop it.
It was right after I sold my first two books to a publisher.
"You should be rejoicing that you've sold books," they said.
"I am. But I'm also worried that the books aren't the best they can be, that they won't sell, that teens won't like them," I said.
"Everyone worries about that," they said.
"You're too self-deprecating. You'll never succeed," they said.
Really, they said that.
"Gosh, looks like it's time for me to go to bed," I said.
But that conversation has always resonated with me and become a niggling thing in the back of my brain because it has so many elements to it:
Who are we to tell people what we should or shouldn’t be? Especially when there’s a cultural component to it?
Who are we to tell someone that because they are who they are that they won’t succeed?
How are they defining success? And is that my definition?
Because I knew these women, I know that they were trying to help me out and be kind (many other people have told me the same thing throughout my life—that I should have the humor that is self-deprecating, that I should boost about who I am or what I do, or at least say it proudly). It didn’t work.
Side note: Those women were wrong and by their standards I became very successful despite my self-deprecating ways.
The thing is, though, that I don’t need to talk about me or the lines that will be in my obituary when I’m dead because that isn’t how I define success, and it’s not who I want to be or how I want to define success or myself. I am pretty comfortable with who I am and that includes the things that other people might see as flaws. It also means that I know what success means to me.
In his class, “Crafting Realities: Work, Happiness and Meaning,” Professor Ramya Ranganathan writes,
“Each of us has a unique frame and internal collage of notions related to success in our minds. This is our own individual definition of success and yet all of us have some themes in common as well.
“These common themes contribute to the collective definitions of success that we hold in our society, in our cultures and in our families.
“The collective definitions are extremely potent, and they are often held, not as separate constructs in our mind, rather they feed into and influence the individual definition that we construct as our own.”
That’s so interesting to me because to those women you can’t be self-deprecating and successful as defined by America or the MFA writing community. But why not? And it makes me think of all the other metrics and scripts that we use when we try to define ourselves.
“Why might it be useful to inquire into our own internal definition of success?
“Both the unique aspects that are coming from our own values as well as the collective definitions of success that we inherit and imbibe.
“Our internal notions become important because we choose careers and create career goals for ourselves based on these definitions of success.
“We might not be doing this explicitly, but we are doing this implicitly all the time.
“The more we base our career decisions and goals on definitions of success that are inline with our own personal values, the more lightly we will be to enjoy what we do and also fell satisfied with the outcome.
“On the flip side, the more we base our career decisions and goals on other people definition of success. The more likely we are to feel confused, disoriented and disengaged with what we do.
“Basing our goals on other people’s definitions of success, also makes us give up more easily.”
What do you think? How do you define success? How do you define who you are? Is it based on other’s opinions and metrics of success? And how do you know what’s your own definition and somebody else’s?
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