Todays lesson comes from the pilot episode of The Middle. In this episode, Sue tries out for show choir. Everyone in the family is flabbergasted when she tells them that she made it. She’s in show choir! What she fails to tell them (because it really doesn’t matter to her) is that she’s not in the choir. She’s on the stage crew, helping move props, etc. Of course, everything goes wrong on the day of her first show. First, the family realizes that she’s not actually in the choir. Second, in typical Sue fashion, everything goes to pot and she ends up ruining the show and injuring some performers.
Okay, aside from the fact that Sue messed up the show, the lesson here is that you create your own definition of success.
When Sue announced that she was in show choir, she didn’t qualify it. There was no, “I’m only on the stage crew.” She didn’t reduce the value of her accomplishment. In her mind, making the stage crew was equivalent to making show choir. You can argue whether or not that’s true, of course. Some people would say that stage crew is the lesser accomplishment and that you can only be in show choir if you’re singing.
That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And you’ll see this kind of gatekeeping in nearly every hobby and occupation. It’s rife in the writing/publishing world, with plenty of people saying that you can’t be an author if you’re self-published, or published with a small press. In their minds, anything less than an agented sale to a big five house doesn’t “count” for author status. Whatever. (If that’s the case, there are very few authors in the world. Which would be good news, because it would mean that I could actually read every book in the world before I die. Cue the sarcasm emoji.)
Anyway, the truth is, you define success. No one else’s opinion matters. Sure, we consider people with millions of dollars “successful,” but that’s not the only definition. A person may consider themselves successful if they are able to keep a roof over their head and not add debt. Or if they have debt but have a wonderful family. Different things matter to different people. Success and failure are arbitrary constructs and trying to achieve someone else’s definition of success will only make you crazy.
It’s best to take Sue’s approach. If simply making the team in any form makes you happy, then congrats! You’re successful. Of course, if you want to aim higher, that’s fine, too. If you’re a self-published or indie writer and you’re loving your life, then yay, you’re successful. However, if you want to reach for that big publishing contract, go right ahead. You set the goalposts.
And you can move them. Maybe you’re super happy with your job/hobby/life situation/whatever right now. But let’s say that later you decide you want to try for more. Go for it! Reach for that brass ring. Just remember that if you don’t quite reach it, it does’t mean you’ve failed. You may have gotten part way to the goal, making the effort a small success. Or you might decide it wasn’t worth it after all and you can go back to being happy the way things were. Whatever you do, don’t let other people tell you whether or not the effort was a success. Just because they want to live or work a certain way does not mean that you do.
Sue tried out for a lot of things on The Middle, and made very few. But the things she did make made her happy. Why? Because for her it was the act of making it that made her happy, not the “level” at which she made it. So while others were looking down on her “lesser” achievements, she was proud of herself. Be proud of yourself. Celebrate your small wins, and own your success. Let your Dork Optimism fly! Don’t let other people tell you that your efforts “don’t count.” They absolutely do. you’ve only failed if you believe you’ve failed. Everything else is upside.
(Image courtesy of Geralt)