Today I was challenged to define success. This was at the end of a networking meeting, and I was spinning my wheels about what I’m trying to achieve with Mindful Healthy Life vs. what seems realistically possible given the commitments I have to my health, to my family, and to my community.
Well, that was what was in my head. What was coming out was really about money, that I want to at least earn enough to pay back what we (read: my husband) invested in the site: site design, lawyer fees, ongoing site maintenance, marketing materials and any other money I spend in the name of starting a business or being a writer, like conference registrations and membership in networking groups.
These are things people don’t do if they are content being a career volunteer or health enthusiast, but they do do if they hope to build something that will be … successful.
So what does success mean to me? It’s a great question.
At the time, I answered it as someone who wants a career beyond mothering. I want to write a book, novel. I want other people to read that book of fiction and for it to enrich their lives.
I also want to share information and insights and to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. This I can do, if I do it well and have a “successful” site that people actually go to. And that “success” – eyeballs, clicks, ideally ad/sponsor/affiliate income – would reflect positively on me and on my prospects for selling a book. (A book I would have to somehow find the time to actually write.)
These lovely women also asked about whether managing a team was something I really wanted to do, and if I could be clearer about my expectations of others. I explained that I have enough loose ends of my own to make it hard for me to expect other people to tie theirs up neatly in bows. But why is that? Because I just don’t have enough time? So maybe when I will have more time, they started.
I cut in with the truth I resist:
I will never have more time.
Sure, I act like I will. I tell myself every day that if I could just have a few uninterrupted days or a weekend away or a weekend home alone with the kids gone, then I could get done all this writing that I honestly really want to do. And I could make the space for new writing and the creative book writing.
But my children are beyond diapers. They are not yet flirting with substances or sex. This winter they are doing only gymnastics one day a week at the exact same time less than a mile away. And that, outside of piano lessons only a few blocks away is currently all they are doing outside of school, which they are both in full time, two miles away, driven by they dad and brought home on the bus. It’s kind of a golden time, I have to admit. That “it will get easier when…” is not a sentence that has an end.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t fantasize about a life when I don’t have to spend at least two (often probably three) hours in the kitchen a day to accommodate my restricted diet. I also fantasize that if I could make some money, I could hire someone to clean the house or even help with the cooking.
But other than those unlikely scenarios, it’s not likely that I am going to have any more time than I do right now. Not unless/until both kids spend part of the summer at sleepaway camp (at least four, probably six years away, if it ever happens), or until one of them is driving (seven years) or they are both in or done with college (thirteen years).
The time I have is the time I have.
What am I going to do with it?
In truth, much of my time goes to things related to health and wellness that philosophically align with the mission of my website but that are not contributing to its “success.”
And parts of my time also go into writing things I want to write and I want accessible to the public rather than just in my head but that are unlikely to be read by anyone else. (Like this blog post).
So, with the understanding that there is never an end to one person’s journey and that life is full of ups and downs, what would “success” look like for me not as a potential businessperson but just as a human being?
I would spend more time joyful and calm than irritated and anxious.
I would put out more gratitude than envy.
I would model mindfulness and resilience for my children.
Edited to add: I would move from, and toward, a place of love more often than not.
I would accept my limitations and be open to learning from them.
At the same time, I do also wish to feel strong and not frequently fatigued, to have healthy,non-itchy skin, to have a non-leaky gut and to be able more foods than I currently can. I would flirt less frequently and less scarily with depression than I have in the past several years. To have all those things be true would feel “successful.”
There are other things outside me that I want to accomplish. It would feel like a “success” if
- all the public schools in Metro DC had active gardens and children spent significant amounts of time interacting with the source of food
- all the public schools in Metro DC committed to honoring movement, mindfulness and connection to nature as key components of learning and being a “whole” child and thus increased recess and outdoor learning as well as yoga and other mindfulness strategies children can call on throughout their life to find positive solutions to challenges
- more families found their way to wellness through prevention, intention and nutrition rather than finding themselves lost in a sea of medications and costly interventions that might have been avoided (when/if problems could have been avoided in their/their parents’ lifetimes)
- more parents found true joy in connecting with their children and prioritized keeping that true
- all parents could find and afford health care that would sustain them and their children into the future and not put bandaids on issues that would resurface later in other ways
- fewer children in Metro DC suffered from asthma and allergies because the area committed to taking efforts toward cleaner air
I don’t know the exact path to those things except by volunteering and sharing information through writing. And I don’t know how to be a “success” at getting that information into more hands, not without a lot more time, or not without help. And I don’t know well how to ask for or accept help, nor do I want to pay for it, lest I get further from the goal of paying my family back.
And none of that is making space for creative writing. Or leaving tons of space for mothering, or partnering.
Sometimes I think if I could just manage to write the book I want to write anyway and have it be a “success,” then I could have a platform to help make those outside social/health/justice things happen. Because having those big changes made out in the world would feel like “success.”
So then I’m feeling guilty for not creating because it’s keeping me from being effective on top of feeling bad for not writing because it simply feels bad – corrosive, even – to not write the stories that are in my head.
And I feel bad for letting my mind wander into fiction sometimes when my children are talking to me and also bad for not being a “success” that they can be proud of.
Well, all that feeling bad is not leading me toward those top measures of success, the ones about being joyful and grateful.
So let’s go back to that and start there.
Yes, I do need some time to sort things out. To figure out my priorities. Also to do some processing and healing. And writing.
Assuming that time does not fall into my lap, what do I do with the time I do have?
Right now, I sleep.
Because I know that’s a prerequisite to health, which is really the only kind of success that can make any of the others possible.
When you can think that clearly and write that honestly, there will be successes out there in people’s lives from the reading of your words that you will never know or hear about but will be profound nevertheless.
I agree 100% with Mark. As Brene Brown is fighting so hard for all of us to understand, you ARE enough. Just as you are. With the time you have. And with what you’re accomplishing within the constraints of what life has thrown at you. Sit with that knowledge. Meditate on it. And find some peace in your soul that baby steps are ENOUGH for now and maybe for always. Your fellow Femworkers are here to support you in every way we can. xoxox
Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your support. And I really appreciate your comment!
Thank you, Megan. I really appreciate you asking the question and coming by to read what it spurred! Thank you for commenting!
Love this, Jessica. It’s a nice reminder for me to get real about time too. I have the same fantasies about just getting a break from the miscellany. Whereas some do the “when I lose ten pounds” or “when I have more money,” mine tends to be, “when I can just get X done, I will have time to Y.”
As a fellow woman with numerous passions whose time is often commandeered by small children and special diets, I keep trying to tell myself it’s this season of my life. (Adding a new baby to the mix did ~not~ help ;-))
I’m also getting better at saying no.
Overall though, I think we just have these intense expectations of ourselves. I feel like I accomplish little, and yet, if I were to list out everything I’ve done this week/month/year, it becomes apparent why I feel devoid of time (and in need of a nap!)
I think of you writing here, running MindfulHealthyLiving, all your involvement with school gardens, HMN, etc. I think it’s incredible how much you can do, especially on top of all the health visits, cooking, and more!