I am so tired. Recovering from an amazing and exhausting several days that included the Huffington Post’s Third Metric Conference, a Kindergarten party here, and my 10th Law School Reunion. They were days stuffed with friends old and new, wonderful houseguests, deep laughter, late nights and far less sleep than I require. And so. I’m fresh out of words, but wanted to pop in and say hello and leave you with the following piece (below) that I wrote in preparation for last week’s conference. I will be back later this week with some thoughts on the conference itself and to relive the reunion. I’m curious to know how you define success these days?
Success. It’s always something I’ve wanted, and aimed for, and felt. I had the distinct privilege of attending a triumvirate of excellent and exalted schools (The Dalton School here in Manhattan; Yale College; Columbia Law School) and in my mind, I think I always assumed that these schools, and the knowledge and opportunities they afforded me, would ensure a high degree of success. In my mind, my foolish mind, it was a simple scenario of Cause and Effect.
In many regards, I was right. I attended these sparkling schools and I worked very hard and I graduated with good grades. There were wonderful opportunities and I took them. I was thankful for them. But here’s the thing, the thing I am only now realizing in retrospect, many years and three kids later: Schools, however brilliant, grades, however flawless, opportunities, however grand, will not teach you what you want to do in life, what you love.
I learned this first-hand. Ensconced in a fancy law firm office high above this city I love, I began the practice of law. I knew then, and see now, that it was a rarified world, a fast-paced, golden land, and I derived some satisfaction from this. But only some. In a very short period of time, I felt myself dragging in that foreboding existential way characters in good, meaty novels drag, asking myself questions big and gray about presence and purpose and passion. Was this what I loved? Would I ever feel passionate in the walls of this world?
The answer came quickly, and quietly: No.
And so there I was in that place where all my hard work had led and I was just as lost, probably more lost, than ever. My resume twinkled, my paycheck was fat, my parents’ friends were impressed, but I was riddled with uncertainty and insecurity. If this was “success,” I wasn’t sure I liked it.
Almost ten years later, I sit here in my jeans at a city Starbucks. In a few minutes, I will pick up my middle daughter from preschool and then we will take the crosstown bus and attend the Spring Fair at her big sister’s school. But in these remaining minutes, I write words. And this practice has become sacred to me – this writing of words, this thinking of thoughts, this asking of questions tiny and grand. This is my new life, my new world, and it is miles from my law firm life. And I love it.
Today, I feel successful. Not Successful in some Platonic, universal, look-at-me, hear-me-roar sense, but a much softer successful; vibrant, edifying, real. I am doing things I want to do and feel I need to do, things that bring ineffable and immense joy and meaning to my life. As I muddle through the raising of three young girls, my life is literally and metaphorically all over the place; I am forever in physical and philosophical transit, my laptop tucked safely into my messenger bag. I sneak moments and hours to write, and for now, in this stage of my mothering life, progress is slow-going, but real. I feel it with every fiber of my being: I am getting somewhere.
This, for me, is what real success is, and feels like. This inchoate sense of growth, of evolution that is messy and meaningful and good. This phenomenon of feeling purpose and passion. It is not all about schools and resumes and money. These things matter of course, on a very practical level, and on a very profound level sometimes. But they are not everything.
We should never allow them to be everything.
How would you define success? Has your definition of success changed over time?