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Unlearning My Success

When Old Definitions No Longer Work

I never questioned my definition of success or questioned its presence in my life. It stood as a constant in my days: something to strive for and work towards. For me, success was about having a respectable job; a stable family; a nice car; friends and colleagues who looked up to me and a boss who trusted me.

Success was measurable in dollar signs, in enviable titles and promotions. It was something to work hard for, to sweat for and to sacrifice for.

Success was something that others recognized and gave to me; it existed through their eyes and nods of validation. Success was never entirely reachable because once I arrived at one level, success meant aiming for the next echelon. Success was intimately tied with ambition, advancement and aspiration. It kept me busy and focused on the subsequent step in the progression of career, family and life in general.

Success spoke to me in tender and defiant tones. It whispered “go, go, go” in my ear when I felt tired or guilty or sick. It excitedly screamed “yes!” when my boss gave me his stamp of approval for that memorandum that I had drafted the night before with exhausted eyes. Success was my proof; my affirmation; my fuel.

Success was kind and generous to me, as a white person living in North America. It came to my door when I invited it and stayed for as long as I asked. Being a women, success required some extra nudging and coddling; some humility and swallowing of the pride. It required that I understand the game and learn to play it; but I eventually did and success treated me well. As long as I put in the time, the hours, the energy, the self-sacrifice, it showed up for me day after day.

But there was a moment, in the race that is life, where I grew tired and restless. My husband had suffered a heart attack, two of my sons had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and I found myself needing the one thing that success could not give me: time. I needed time to focus on the people that I loved, including myself.

I needed time to recenter and breathe, to take care of my family, to slow down and touch base with what is important to me.

When success could not give me what I needed most, I began to question its relevance. If I could craft a whole new definition of success based on my priorities and values, what would that look like? And that is when I started the exercise of unlearning my success. I began to dismantle the old precepts to remove the doctrines of wealth and advancement; the tenets of titles and ranks; the creeds of ambition and pretension.

In unlearning my success, I have come to understand that I can create my own definition of it where I feel valued, whole and happy. As I work through what this means for me, I hope that it will lead me to a place where success is measured in hugs and smiles; in meaningful connections; and in exciting adventures with those that I love.

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