My definition of success

Have you noticed how when you meet new people, the first thing they tend to ask is “What do you do?” I remember a woman I interviewed once who was very frustrated by this. She had opted out but not yet figured out what she was going to do next, and in the meantime she was temporarily at home with her kids. This question frustrated her so much because she couldn’t identify with being a stay-at-home mom, she felt an acute loss of identity and extremely self-conscious about not living up to expectations. ‘Just’ being a stay-at-home mom didn’t feel important enough.

Well, the fact that we don’t really value nonpaid care work is very problematic. I mean, anyone who has been at home with children knows that being a stay-at-home mom is definitely not doing nothing, even though those posing the question aren’t just wondering what you do, but what you get paid to do outside the home. But that aside, I have to say that in a way I really get why there’s an interest in what it is you spend most of your time doing, because aren’t we sort what we do? And now I don’t mean professionally, I mean in general. Without activities and actions, what would our lives really consist of?

Inspired by last week’s post, I’ve been thinking about what exactly it is that makes my life successful. First I thought about my work. I’ve managed to negotiate a pretty good deal for myself at work and in a way I guess that should make me feel successful. But to tell you the truth when I really think about it, having a deal that reflects my worth is actually more of a hygiene factor than anything else. If you come from the business world, you’ve probably heard of Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation. There are hygiene factors like working conditions, a salary, and job security, and then there are motivators, which include recognition, a sense of achievement, and personal growth. You feel dissatisfied if your hygiene factors aren’t fulfilled, and if they are fulfilled you just feel neutral – neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. It is only if your motivators are fulfilled that you actually feel satisfaction.

And although I should feel pretty satisfied about getting a good deal, especially considering that women are generally underpaid and as research has shown not as good at negotiating or knowing their worth as men, getting what I deserve is really just a hygiene factor. Anything less would simply be unsatisfactory. What motivates me and makes my life and work a success is something completely different.

As clichéd as it sounds, I came to the conclusion that it is all the things I do and the people I have in my life that bring me joy that make my life feel meaningful and successful. I love that I can make a living reading and writing about things that interest me and that I feel are important. I have so many wonderful meaningful relationships with people close to me and I love that I have the time and flexibility to nurture these relationships, not to mention all the laughter and good conversation! I have produced two of the most delightful human beings I know and watching them grow is definitely one of my favorite things. Also, having a good relationship with them feels like a huge success. I love that I have the peace of mind to slow down enough every now and then to see all the fantastic beauty around me – that is just good for the soul. And I am able to have the most satisfying hobby that challenges me while also allowing me to cuddle with half a ton worth of furry creature (horse-back riding).

Notice how all of these things are activities? It is the things I do and the people I’m actively with which make my life meaningful, and yes also successful. None of the things I’ve listed are about money or prestige. Don’t get me wrong, money is important, we need money to live and to eat, and it is important to get that raise when you deserve it. But for me at least, these are just hygiene factors. It is rather the things that bring me joy that make my life successful.

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