The markers that really signify success

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I think it’s really easy to mismeasure success. Instead of quantifying it in meaningful milestones, we end up looking to factors that – at the end of the day – are pretty insignificant: professional title or salary. The size of someone’s house. What’s hanging in their closet.

Don’t get me wrong. In some ways, these things do define success – but I think it’s easy to place so much significance on them that you miss what’s really important. I’m super career driven, so I won’t sit here and pretend like I’m not proud of what I’ve accomplished professionally. I’m also not going to pretend that material possessions – like my house – aren’t a marker of success for me. My husband and I bought our home when we were 27 and 25, respectively. That was (still is) a huge marker of success for us.

But over the past few years, I’ve started to place more importance on the small, blink-and-you-miss-them markers of success.

The other week, I was at an event and met someone who had read my work. That alone is a success-marker for me. It means that people actually read my stuff and think it’s good enough to remember my name. But the individual at that event took it further.

“I just started writing and it’s a lot harder than I expected,” he told me. “What advice do you have to help me improve?”

I think I stood there with my mouth hanging wide open for a second. Sure, people have asked me for advice about writing. But never a complete stranger. And never in a (relatively) non-professional setting. I quickly recovered, offered up a few tips, and we both went off on our merry little ways.

Who knows if that guy took my advice. Honestly, I don’t really care. Knowing that someone thought I was good enough at what I do to seek my guidance was HUGE. It definitely goes down on my list of success-defining moments (spoiler alert: I have no such list).

Measuring success in meaningful ways goes beyond outside validation, though. In fact, I think real success is rooted in your own self-confidence.

Take my friend, for example. She and her husband are new parents. They don’t own their home. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her wearing designer brand-anything. And I haven’t the slightest idea how much money they make. But, before their baby was born, my friend told me that she’d be returning to her role as an R.N. at a reputable hospital per diem.

Now, I know there’s 18 billion views and opinions on what moms should and shouldn’t do post-birth. Kind of a “damned if you do (stay home with your new baby), damned if you don’t” situation, right? But the first thing I felt when I heard my friend’s plans wasn’t judgemental – it was impressed. How AMAZING that she and her husband have figured out a way for her to stay home most days with their baby. And how EMPOWERING of my friend to be confident enough – in herself, in her career, in every aspect of her life – to choose to stay home.

To me, it signifies a woman who knows what’s really important in her life. It says, “I’m successful enough in my career to hop off the ladder for a minute without worrying that it’ll all collapse. And I’m confident enough in my decision to send any nay-sayers packing.”

At the end of the day, the number of Louboutins someone has in her closet says squat. But prioritizing the people who matter most – that speaks volumes. And isn’t that kind of success more important than whatever you’ve got on your resume or in the bank?

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It’s time to take this public

 

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When it comes to goals, like losing weight or working out or any number of things, it’s said you’re supposed to share them. Making a goal “public” – especially on social media – makes you feel accountable and helps keep you stay committed.

Doubtful? Think about it in the context of working out.

Hypothetically, let’s say I’ve decided to start getting up at 5 a.m. to go running (this is definitely hypothetical. Only way I’m running at 5 a.m. is if my house is on fire). The night before day one, I take a photo of my run gear all laid out and share it and my new goal on social. I get a bunch of likes. My friends comment to cheer me on. Morning rolls around and I’m still pretty jazzed from my friends’ support, so even though I hatehatehate mornings I get up and hit the road. I check in at the local park – just in case anyone doubts I got out of bed (or maybe because I’m so proud that I did).

And so it goes like this for a bit: I keep posting about my runs on my social accounts, my friends keep cheering me on, I keep getting up. Getting up at 5 a.m. eventually becomes a habit, and I slow down on those posts because I don’t need that external motivation to keep me accountable and committed.

Make sense? Good. Here’s what I’m getting at.

I’ve found it very difficult to make time for my personal writing. But it’s something I enjoy doing, and it’s something that I know is good for me (not just as a writer but as a human being), and it’s something that makes me feel accomplished – so I need to STOP not making time for it. I let ridiculous excuses and assumed parameters keep me from doing it. (I don’t have a theme (who cares?), I need to blog every day for it to be effective (what exactly is an “effective” personal blog?), I don’t want to write another thing after writing all day (shut up), blah blah blah.)

What it really boils down to is this: I need to just sit down, shut up, and write about whatever the hell I feel like. So, here goes nothing. I’m making my goal public and I’m committing to write here at least twice a month.

(Phew. I feel better already.)

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On breaking my best habit

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I logged into WordPress today to create this blog. I was all jazzed up, telling myself today was the day, only to find out I had in fact already created it nearly two years ago. My 2013 self gets an “A” for effort I guess, but really this is a reminder that blogging is always the first priority I push off ’til tomorrow.

Kind of like how I’ll get back into my nightly journaling ritual… tomorrow.

For basically all of my 27 years on this earth, I’ve kept a journal. My entries – though occasionally sporadic – were usually habitual. One one hand, writing helped me keep at least one foot firmly planted in reality. On the other, it let me play out my anxieties, turning situations over and over in my head (notebook) until I made them even more dramatic than they were to begin with (or had finally sorted them out). And so, from second grade all the way through college, I journaled nearly every day.

Enter adulthood. Writing quickly became not only something I was passionate about and actually good at – it also became the best and surest way for me to pay my bills. (This is basically a nice way of saying that writing was no longer something I did for myself). At the same time, I realized that – after spending my day staring at a computer screen, writing endless pages of text, scrutinizing every word choice and sentence structure – pretty much the last thing I wanted to do when I came home was plunk down at the kitchen table and write some more. Not because I don’t love my work. And not because I don’t love writing for myself. I love both but – come on – sometimes all a girl wants at the end of a long day is to cuddle up on the couch with a glass of wine and her Instagram feed. (How very millennial of me. I know.)

Suddenly, five years have passed and I’m not even half-way through my first Moleskin notebook, with it’s inaugural entries detailing the difficulties I had finding a job immediately following my graduation into 2010’s recession.

Instead of a daily habit, journaling’s come a semi-quarterly to-do at best.

Pathetic, I know.

Except, maybe it’s not so pathetic. Sometimes I take my complete lack of journaling over the past five years as a good sign. When journaling was my therapy, life was pretty temperamental in a way that wasn’t just your typical teenage melodrama. My parents had a messy divorce and I took it pretty hard. I didn’t see my dad for a good decade or so. My mom and I had our fair share of problems. Finances were tight, we moved at least once a year, and – all in all – things felt far from stable. I was a sensitive kid (still am, what can I say), meaning I had a whole host of issues and concerns taking up headspace. But despite how uncertain and inconsistent those years felt, I could always count on writing to ground me. And looking back, I’m damn glad I used it as my escape rather than something else, because things could have certainly turned out worse.

Fast forward to today. Instability is no longer a constant in my life. I’ve made peace with my parents and the past. I’m happily in love with and married to an amazing man and, along with our dog, we’re building our life together. I’ve got a job I’m not only good at but I enjoy doing. And – perhaps most importantly – I have the confidence and wisdom today to know that a few bumps in the road don’t have to unbind me.

So maybe my poor journaling habit isn’t pathetic. It’s progress.

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Why this blog’s theme won’t keep me up at night

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I’m a writer. As in, this is my career path but also as in, this is what I’ve always identified myself as.

I first started writing when I was seven. We’re not just talking about a one-page short story scratched out in pencil on a piece of lined paper with hand-drawn margins to pass in to the teacher, folks. We’re talking full on chapter books, series stories about myself and my best friend – a dynamic duo saving the neighborhood from bullies and monsters one summer afternoon at a time. I filled notebook after notebook with these stories and others, and at one point or another we all realized this wasn’t just a phase. I was a writer.

Most people hear me say, “I’m a writer” and immediately follow-up that up with, “So, what’s your blog?” Riiight, so you see, the funny thing is… I haven’t had a blog. In a really long time.

So, OK. Here’s my hold up: I don’t really have a theme – nothing that feels sticky enough, at least. I could cover the things I’m passionate about, sure, but how do I pen a crafty blog post with a unique perspective if I’m in line with every other guy on the block writing about health, or yoga, or writing, or recipes – or anything else under the sun?

When I was in college, I was the Editor-in-Chief of our newspaper and had a weekly column. People read it – I know because random kids would come up to me in the cafeteria or the quad and talk to me about what I had written. And it was kind of blog-ish – so that counts, right? Except, no. It doesn’t, because it was a newspaper, which is kind of the exact opposite of a blog. It also had no central theme – major oversight on my part, right?

Maybe not.

The one thing that really set the column apart and kept readers coming back – or so I was told – was the tone I wrote in. Rather than taking a traditional, journalistic route, I wrote those columns in the same style I think and speak. The result? Columns with personality that felt more like conversation over coffee – probably the reason why people I had never met before would track me down to chat in the salad bar line.

Eventually, I stopped focusing on finding a theme and instead learned to let my own voice shine through my work. See, the thing is, when you’re actually passionate about something – like a weekly college newspaper column with no central theme –  people know it. They don’t care if you can’t quite define what you’re doing, or if it doesn’t fit within the standard parameters. What they care about is whether or not you give a shit about your work, whether you’re funneling your guts into it. I’m pretty sure that, if you are, it’ll all work out in the end.

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