the meaning of success

Photo by Gillian Stevens

Photo by Gillian Stevens

Being a perfectionist can be a curse sometimes. Or at least, it can feel like one. I've always thought the tendency was based on my own standards, but lately it seems like quite the opposite. Perhaps I've been letting myself be influenced too much by society's standards. 

You see, I graduated over seven months ago and am not working in my degree field. The feelings of failure and guilt have gnawed at me for weeks on end, yet I've done little to stop them. Despite relaunching my jewelry business, the feelings lingered. The pressure from my parents to find a "real job" has taunted me on and off, our phone conversations revolving around the ever-present question of, "Did you find one yet?"

But I realized something the other week. E and I were driving home from a dinner date and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't have to be a white-collar worker to be successful. 

I think society tries to put us in a box. It's the box we nearly can't escape, because it encompasses every aspect of our lives, and we are constantly bombarded by its messages. Keep up with the Joneses, prove yourself, measure up, be important, earn money, have a lot of things. It's a cycle of stress, comparison, and insatiable longing that leaves you feeling empty and inadequate. 

There's a feeling of embarrassment when one asks, "What do you do?" And you try explain that you are juggling a bunch of jobs--assistant manager and consultant here, freelance writer there, jewelry designer in the spaces between but you want to go full-time--it's a complicated answer when people want the clear-cut one, the definitive, "I'm a fill-in-the-blank." Especially when they know you've gone to college. And you get this look. You know the one, where you can feel the judgment seeping from their skin, the awkward way they try to change the subject, or just nod their head and avoid direct eye contact.

I've determined that success is not measured by power, but by passion. When you pour your heart into something, whatever it is, that's all that matters. Not a title. Not a status. You can be intelligent and have a college degree and choose to stay off the corporate ladder. It doesn't make you a failure, it doesn't make you any lesser, it doesn't mean you're a waste. As obvious as that sounds, it's a hard truth to reconcile with yourself, when you feel like society's expectations are against you.

Ultimately though, I think for me, the best thing is going to be a job with a low-stress environment. A job where I can help others stay organized and creative, and still allows me to dedicate time to the things I'm passionate about. I want to hone my creative work, I want to delve into new art (like woodworking, leather-binding, sewing, cooking, photography....endless possibilities....), I want to volunteer my time with the elderly. Something that will allow me to eventually transition my jewelry studio into my full-time gig is the goal.

Eric and I watched a TedTalk a month ago that asked, what does freedom look like to you? What do you want your life to look like? It's taken me a few weeks to really determine what that is for me. Success for me is curating a home. Home is my happy place, my sanctuary, my safe haven. Eric and I want to build our own house, just a little place between a grove of trees, where we can plant a garden, have bonfires, raise a child. Success to us looks like a simple, fulfilling life, where we can cultivate love, live our passions, help others.

What does success look like to you?