I’ve been thinking a lot about success just lately, about how often I’ve felt like a failure compared to other people, about how different our ideas of success really are and what it means to me.
I didn't get the job I went for a couple of weeks ago, yet another one lately where I've come 2nd or 3rd usually because I’ve been competing with people already doing the job or already in the team rather than because I’m just rubbish and unsuitable. I haven't been too bothered up until this one, this one felt so good for me and my long term plans. I saw it as a way I would be able to focus on the disability support work I do alongside my “day job” but the universe has other ideas for me!
I did have a bit of a mini tantrum on my own about not getting it, just for a few minutes. I was disappointed and frustrated and yet again felt like I was failing. But then I had one of those ah-ha moments.
For most of my life the things I've learnt equate to success are material. How much do you earn, how many people do you manage, how early in your career did you hit that milestone, did you get a bonus or an award for being the best, how big is your house, how good is your car, how many holidays do you have and where are they?
When I got my job as Principal Analyst (several years ago now) I was the youngest one in the country by quite some way. I earned loads (well I thought so at the time!). I bought a new car and a house. I’d been aiming for those things for a while and was thrilled when I got them. Those things made me happy, but only for a while – about 3 years actually.
Ever since then I've moved from one secondment to the other, never really feeling satisfied. Looking at people round me getting high paid jobs, fancy cars & going on amazing holidays and wondering why I didn’t know where I wanted to go and wasn’t getting anywhere fast anymore. Yet again those feelings of failing were back, especially when I looked at what other people were achieving.
Then I got sick. Totally crashed in 2014 and took a year to get back to work. During that time my whole outlook on life changed. Success wasn’t about big material “stuff” or being able to show off about holidays on Facebook. It was being able to wash my hair standing up in the shower without passing out, only needing to sit down once on the way up the stairs instead of two or three times, getting out of the house for something other than a medical appointment.
Every little thing I managed to achieve felt like success to me, even if it didn’t look like it to others. I don’t think people really understand that unless it’s happening to them or someone close to them. They try to help and give advice, but no matter how well meaning they are it often feels like they’re pointing out your failures again – you haven’t got better because you have tried this diet, or these magic pills (looking at you juice plus!), cognitive behavioural therapy will fix your physical illness so why isn’t it helping you? I’m very grateful to the online chronic illness community for the support they gave me during that time. It helped me cope with the well-meaning people and come to terms will where I was at. And they celebrated those successes with me pretty much every step of the way, because they knew how good it felt and that they were worth celebrating.
Eventually I managed to get just about well enough to go back to work, albeit on very reduced hours and working from home rather than the office. I became a redeployee because my secondment was up and had to move to a lower grade job which was legally considered “suitable alternative employment”. It felt like my career had taken an enormous leap backwards. Part time hours meant less money too. No new car, house or fancy holidays for us! That’d be failing again then!
The ah-ha moment that came after not getting that job was this: I've put so much pressure on myself to be the person and have the life I thought I wanted and was expected of me by those around me, whether they play the “I'm better than you” game or not. But it isn't actually how I want to live my life or who I really am.
The stuff that really lights me up is my volunteer work. The things I get to do each week which actually make a difference to someone's life. Where I help them find their way through the minefield of managing their chronic health condition and being able to work at our organisation. I’ve been able to help colleagues with CFS/ME, MS, chronic insomnia, brain injuries, epilepsy, fibromyalgia and lots of other conditions. I’ve helped their managers and had my contribution recognised by the directors. My employee network has 100 members now and just keeps on growing. That feels huge and amazing, and far more important than all that material stuff.
I don't want to be competing or feeling like I’m not good enough because others are basically showing off about the good stuff in their lives and hiding the bad stuff. Maybe that actually says more about them than me. Maybe they're insecure and feel like shouting out about what they have/did makes them feel better? Who knows. Don't get me wrong, not everyone is like this, and I don't think there's anything wrong at all with being proud of our achievements – we totally should be! I have friends and family who have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are and have the lives they have and I’m really proud of and happy for all of them. I'm also proud of my own achievements, whether they’re big or small and regardless of whether anyone else is. Comparison is the thief of joy, right?
I like what Lucy Sheridan aka The Comparison Coach says on her website www.proofcoaching.com about success:
“What worries me most is ‘success’ has been reduced to an arbitrary tick list of facebook updates and that’s not going to work for me”
The card in the photo come from Gabby Bernstein’s Miracles Now deck. It says I measure my success by how much fun I'm having. In that case I'm bloody successful!
What does success really mean to you?