Some people write dictionaries. Some determine doctrine. Some are label makers. What do I get to do? What can I define? My own success? My own happiness? What brings me joy? What causes me shame? Do I have a say in my life besides always following? Is it enough to have an impact on someone else's life even if I was just pursuing another's goal's or ambitions?
When will I know I have arrived? How will I know that I have succeeded? I don't want to plateau at the top. I want to always keep climbing. Success, I would say now is learning and teaching. I've said before that its key is knowing how to say what to whom, but the more I think about that the more I'm conflicted. You see, I've thought fairly often about that definition recently and it sounds more like manipulation. If my key to success results in manipulation, then can that really be success? Perhaps, I've thought, that still is the key, it's just that it can be warped in the wrong hands. Like a key to a door that someone is trying to use on their front door, it just won't fit. Still, this thought warrants additional thought, something I know a lot about: thinking.
So, as those thoughts tumble around in my mind, sometimes ending up in the frontal cortex and other times bouncing between nerve endings, I analyze other outcomes. I think other thoughts. Maybe success can't always be measured. Maybe success is sometimes abstract. Maybe there are markers that can tell us we're on the right track, but those markers can look drastically different from one person to the next. So rather than putting forth tireless effort in coming up with uniform mile markers I choose to ask others about themselves.
Tell me about you. What is your life? What are your hopes? What are your dreams? What terrifies you? If you could do or be anything, what would you be? How did you get to where you are today?
I don't always ask these questions outright, but I think that something inside me looks for them constantly. I wonder about others. Perhaps it's because I'm seeking those same answers in my own life. Maybe my hope is that by hearing of the hopes, dreams, and fears of others I can find something shared. Could it be that my hope in asking others how they define themselves is tied to my desire to find my own identity?
I don't need others to tell me who I am. In fact, that is one of the easiest ways to shut me down: Tell me who I am. Tell me you know me. Tell me how to live my life. These monologues from those around me are like master artists painting me with shame. I know you have much wisdom to share and I truly value it. Your amount of lived experience is not lost on me. You've without a doubt earned your position in whatever domain you may be in. However, to tell me that I must now follow all that you've done in order to get to the place where you are rather shortsighted of you.
I'll take your wisdom and even your sharp critique with me, but you must recognize that I am not you. When I look at you eye-to-eye, I know I may look like a mirror to you, but that's not all that's there. I appreciate your input. I really do! There are just some things that I have to find out for myself. Like a prodigal son, sometimes I have to squander my life to find it. Like a loving father, sometimes you have to let me go to love me. Is all of this just delayed teenage angst? Is it just my opposition to authority? Perhaps it is, only time will tell. However, in this moment I need to be allowed to be myself.
And please don't think that your input and insight is not appreciated. That is far from the truth and I hope that I can make that clear. I hope you can understand that success (and life really) just look different for me. I like to think that much of this is universal and people reading it could relate to it on a deep level. However, then I catch myself. Then I remember that those are the thoughts I'm fleeing. The thoughts that say, "I know your life. I've lived it before. Let me teach you how to make your better life best."
So rather than preaching to you about who you are and what you should and should not do, I'll leave that up to you. I'll say, "live and let live and laissez-faire." I'll do my best to be teachable and find a way to be teaching. I won't assert myself without cause. I will not tell you how to live my life. Rather, I will seek out my biases and blind spots because awareness is pivotal to growth. I will be open to what you have to say and seek greater understanding in the solid ground that I am standing on. That way, I can begin to comprehend when it's becoming more about me and less about you or us. Then, when it becomes about capacity building at the expense of another I can pull out the roots and throw those thoughts in the compost where they can have new life.
At the same time, I hope I will have people in my life who will have the courage to point that out for me. The line is thin, but I'm willing to hear you out if you speak to me where I am. Yes, we all know that fear, anger, and shame work when getting someone to hear us out or obey what we say. However, just because something is effective doesn't mean it should be replicated. Let's love those around us as they come to us, not as we desire for them to be.