We were having dinner with a group of people, one of Marc’s work things, introductions were being made, and someone said to me, “How about you, Mary? What’s your career?”
It caught me by surprise, and I burst out laughing. I knew it wasn’t very elegant of me, but I couldn’t help it. “That’s a very good question,” I said. “I wish I knew.”
Follow your passion. Celebrities urge college graduates to Do Something Important. Work super hard at it. Make A Difference. Don’t be afraid to fail! Be a leader. Better yet, be an Entrepreneur!
The only problem is that this tidy upper-middle class Success Narrative doesn’t always pan out. That’s probably why there are so many “life” and “success” coaches out there, milking our confusion and insecurity to make a living.
Think about it. The people giving that advice are already successful. That’s why they got the gig. They make it sound like an amazing vocation can just be plucked out of mid-air, fully formed. (And it’s not flipping burgers or driving a bus, in case you’re wondering). As if your passion is a thing that already exists and you just have to identify it and then ride the happy train into the sunset to make tons of money and be successful.
Do you really think Steve Jobs or Bill Gates set out to be multibillionaire entrepreneurs? No, they just did stuff that felt right to them at the moment, stuff they couldn’t imagine not doing. (Which, by the way, included dropping out of school. They both missed the graduation speech about following your passion.)
What these people should really say is “Don’t listen to me or anyone else trying to tell you what to do or how to do it. Just go do something. And while you’re at it, pay attention to the little things.”
Then they should say “Well? Why are you still here?”
The Success Narrative didn’t really work for me, and I wasted, and, yes, still waste, a lot of time beating myself up over it, feeling lousy that I don’t have a capital-C career and a multi-page CV like my siblings and spouse.
What I’m currently telling myself is something like this: What matters is how we do the everyday things in our lives, our intentions and attention. From those seeds, the bigger stuff will grow if it’s meant to. How you do anything is how you do everything.
That, and Labels are for envelopes, not people!
Today a woman came to my overcrowded kundalini yoga class with a little boy in tow. How irritating! What, she can’t miss a single workout? But then I saw how much fun they were having, dancing together, and in a flash there I was again, Luc or Brendan home from school with a stomach ache, a headache. The dancing duo reminded me of something.
I made a choice when my boys were born that I would be there most of the time. I wanted to be the one that did the little things with them, every day. That was what mattered to me in that moment. I have no regrets. But choices have consequences: I am where I am because I chose that path.
Maybe I’m wrong when I say the success narrative didn’t work for me. I did do something important. I did, indeed, work super hard at it. I think I made a difference. It didn’t net me a capital-C career and a multipage CV, but I knew that all along and still made the choice. And I’m not even 50 yet. Maybe it’s just time for chapter two. Fifty is the new thirty, isn’t it?
Success isn’t money, or fame, or even happiness. I’m not even sure it’s definable. It doesn’t matter to me, because the way I see it, chasing after success is like pursuing that body of water you can see in the distance on a Nevada highway: no matter how long you drive, it will always be just out of reach, and if that’s all you’re focused on, you’ll miss all the cool jackalopes on the side of the road.
Life lesson from Gydle: watch out for the jackalopes.