1.The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
2.The attainment of popularity or profit.
I vividly remember when my oldest sister Connie announced that she had left the practice of law to become a waitress.
(In truth, she was only a waitress temporarily while she saved up money to move to Chicago and become a realtor. But, the story sounds way juicier without that postscript…)
She waited until after she quit her job to tell our parents.
As for me, well, I remember being absolutely horrified by her decision. She was a lawyer after all. She made good money. She had security. She made our parents proud. She had a job that people respected. She was… “successful.”
And she was going to give all that up to go wait tables and hope that somehow she would save enough money to move to the NORTH and be a realtor?
Sounded like a long shot to me.
I felt so smugly superior. I was a straight A student. I did not waste time thinking about dreams or wishes. I was going to be a super successful lawyer. I would never quit my job- or anything else- on a whim.
Poor, poor Connie.
Fast forward twenty years.
Connie is a successful realtor, wife and mother of two amazing boys living in Chicago.
Yep. She did it. Every bit of it (and a whole lot more).
And I would venture to say her only regret is the years she wasted living out our parents’ dreams instead of her own.
Who’s feeling smug now? (Truth be told- she isn’t. She isn’t like that. Never has been. Annoyingly kind on top of living out her dream… She’s also thin. Ugggh.)
I have been doing a lot of soul searching as of late about what it really means to be a “success.”
Because here’s the thing- I’m not.
At least not in the ways that matter to me.
And that’s a really big, scary thing to admit.
It’s the kind of tidal wave that can drown you if you let it.
Or, it can inspire you.
It gets you thinking, hoping, questioning, praying (a lot).
You start thinking about your crazy older sister- and about her courage.
And about how naive you were.
You think about all kinds of things.
I think about how hard I worked to be “perfect.”
When I was in college, there was one particular professor I adored- Dr. Pearson.
It was like he saw me- the real me- from the first day I walked in his classroom.
Cautious, guarded, shy, insecure me.
He was the first person outside my family who told me I was a good writer.
I will never forget that.
Year after year, he sat back and watched me study and obsess and achieve.
He was there when I received awards and accolades.
But, he never talked about any of it.
Never mentioned any of it to me.
It pissed me off really.
And then, after four years of being my favorite professor, he decided to let me know his feelings by attaching a postcard to my final paper….
It said: “Rude awakening #457: Nobody really cares what your G.P.A. was.”
Crazy- just like my sister and her waitress job.
Surely my parents would agree with me, right?
After all, my greatest fear was disappointing them.
But, you know what’s even crazier?
I think my stepfather (a/k/a Dean) knew I would be living this very struggle a long time ago. Years before he passed away.
I have a framed picture of him in my bedroom in his uber prestigious military uniform that he gave me when I was 22 years old.
In other words, when I had it all figured out. When I was brilliant and perfect.
And you know what his handwritten note on the back says?
“I am so proud of you for what you have done, for what you will do, and most of all for what you are.”
Did you get that?
Because I didn’t. Not when I was 22.
I just put it on my mantle and kept studying and trying to be perfect.
I didn’t give much thought to what I was.
Instead, I was all about what I would do.
Fast forward 20 years.
I bet you wondered if I would ever truly get it.
All I can say is thank you for thinking I might.
I have a lot left to learn.
But, here’s what I know for sure….
Being a success has nothing whatsoever to do with how much money you make or what letters appear before or after your name.
It doesn’t matter if you have a cubicle or a corner office.
It doesn’t matter if you report to someone or someone (or a hundred someone’s) reports to you.
It’s about having the courage and the confidence to be a waitress when the world thinks you’re supposed to be a lawyer.
It’s about what you are- not what you do.
It’s in your soul.
And you feel it.
You can ignore it.
Run from it.
Tell yourself that the big house and the Mercedes make it all worth it.
But it won’t go away.
It’s the voice telling you that it’s totally okay to go be a waitress.
Or a lawyer.
Or a mommy.
Or a writer.
Or a CEO.
Or whatever it is that makes you wake up every day and feel thankful for this precious life you have been given.
Thank you Connie, Dr. Pearson and Dean- for inspiring me to dig deep enough to want to be so much more than “perfect.”