Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Redefining Success

I was such an asshole when I was younger. I had this dreadful combination of inferiority/superiority complex, where success was defined by external things.

Oh, that's society you say? So I'm not alone?

The definers of success were my grandmother, a famous novelist, and my father, a rock star priest. Everybody else was a loser, including me. If you weren't making a major impact on the world, you just sucked. What about doctors? Lawyers? Nah. They didn't have a big enough of a captive audience - my dad's preaching drew huge crowds and my grandmother's words were read by millions - they both had a similar philosophy/theology and they WERE ON MESSAGE. What about teachers then? Surely they have a captive audience. They were the biggest losers of all. Those who can't do, teach.

The standard of my grandmother and father's success was impossibly high for everyone. (See, I told you I was an asshole.)

Well, what was the MESSAGE of your grandmother and your father then? That we ALL matter, and that we're not losers! Basically, we're all children of God, or we all have God within us, however you want to look at the semantics of it.

I see you scratching your head. Why then, couldn't you internalize this? 

(And then there's the whole money issue - you not only have to captivate an audience, you have to make money too! Because everyone knows success is about money, right? )

I internalized everything - there was good stuff of course, but a lot of BAD stuff, and my foggy brain couldn't sort it all out. I had to grow up and have my own struggles with this ethereal notion of "success". I continue to grow and the more I am in touch with the Divine, the more in-love with the world and my life I am.

I am not my grandmother and I am not my father, but like them, I am a writer and a teacher. I have internalized their message, and I share it with you as you share with me.  I write to remind myself of who I really am, because this is the best way I know how to think clearly.

I needn't define myself by their success, or by anybody's. My definition of success is the ability to embrace and appreciate life, and having the physical and spiritual space to do the things that make you a better person, and bring you more toward your authentic self.

Which is what writing and teaching do for me. It's not making me rich for sure, but I am solidly middle class.

And best of all, my life is right sized, no better or worse than anybody else.

(This is the good part about getting older folks!)

What about you? Do you struggle with any of this?


  1. Do I struggle with this? Heh, heh, heh! But I love this post, Lena!

  2. I have actually been struggling with this a lot lately. I finished the rough draft of my book and I immediately went into "if I don't get this published and make a good amount of money, I'm still the same loser I've always been" mode. I'm still struggling, but at least I know on some level that I'm not defined by how much money I make or how many people like my writing. I have three wonderful kids that I homeschool, and their happiness and insanely amazing personalities help me to see how important I am. Thanks for sharing and giving me yet another inspirational source to remind myself not to base my self worth on finances or fame.

  3. How we define success is tricky, indeed. The culture we live in suggests a financial dimension, coupled with a degree of recognition. I had no iconic grandmother or father to measure myself up against, but I did have a mother who had me believing in the power of hard work and tenacity to get what I wanted. Oh, if that were only as true as I'd like it to be! Do I want the kind of success that brings recognition? Yes. At the same time, like you, I've had the gift of a different kind of success -- the one that comes with sparking young writers. One good metaphor from a student could make my day.

    1. Yes, Deborah - defining success for ourselves is a work in progress.

  4. This is fantastic to read, to hear the opinion that you can determine your own level of success. I'm just starting in a college where everyone is really smart and talented, and I used to measure my success by how much better I did than most people at my high school! Here that is not only impossible to do, but also a really bad idea. Sometimes I feel like my life won't amount to anything significant and I won't get anything done, that I will ever amount to anything. I'm starting to learn that I can be myself and define my successes in the things that I do in order to make myself more me and a better human being.
    Thanks for writing about this! This idea is really important for people everywhere.

    1. Hi Nicoline! Oh golly, I know how you feel and thanks so much for writing! In highschool I was a big fish in a small pond, but then I went to Barnard and I was a tiny fish in a humongous pond! We need to surround ourselves with like-minded people and beyond all else, wear glitter!

  5. Interesting. Why did you consider yourself an a**hole? Aren't we all a bit 'different,' perhaps a bit more concerned with ourselves when we are still trying to figure ourselves out, who we are, who we are growing into.
    That must be a hard thing to feel you have to live up to, or measure up to. Even internally.
    It can certainly be challenging to learn to stop comparing ourselves with others. Or even with our own 'model' of who we think, or others think, we ought to be. Somehow there's always a bit of gap isn't there. Coming up a bit short.

    We are all unique. We are all unique individuals having a common, or somewhat of a common, human experience.
    If we all did not bring who we are, in all our uniqueness, to this life, look at all the gaps there would be in this fabric of existence. Not to mention boring. ;)

    There are always going to be better, or worse, as we perceive it anyway.

    That's why all our voices as writers are needed. None of us would tell the story exactly the same.
    We all bring something to writing, and to this world that is uniquely ours. And the world would be a less rich place for it.

    As for others getting more attentions and accolades…. doesn't make our contribution less needed, or less important. Or that we will reach less people. We just might not know about it quite like your grandmother, or your father.

    You can touch others they can't. You have something they don't. The ability to be you. And be the best you that you can.

    You might not ever know all the people you touch. That doesn't mean you didn't.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful addition to this post, and for your kind words. It's funny - my Dad doesn't read blogs but for some reason he came across this one and called me up exclaiming - "you weren't an a--hole!" It was very sweet. I think that's my penchant for drama right there!

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