If you asked me at any point during my life what the most important things to me are, I would say my friends and being creative. Art and the people I love have always been the things I care most about in the world, no contest. And yet, while I have so many incredible friends and so much time to dedicate to creativity, I’ve considered myself a failure for years simply because I didn’t have a steady job or other material things and, in my eyes, wasn’t “good” at life.
Now, as my editing business has grown exponentially over several months, and I am finally starting to see a glimpse of what could be a path forward, I’ve begun to do a lot of thinking about what success actually looks like for me. For most of my life, my measurement for success in life has been completely tied to my accomplishments and nothing else. If I’m doing good work, supporting myself, and checking all those boxes, I’m successful. When I wasn’t living up to those standards the past few years, it didn’t matter that other things about my life were good, I was unsuccessful and a failure, and it became a source of major problems with depression and low self-esteem.
Now, as things are starting to pick back up career-wise, ironically I’m finally starting to unpack how unfair it is to have spent so much time giving material things complete control over my perception of whether I have a good life, and really, over my self worth. It’s not a measurement I would apply to anyone else but myself, and I’m finally beginning to accept that my standards are impossible. I’m realizing it wasn’t my lack of material success over the past few years that was causing my mental health to deteriorate, but rather the pain of failing to meet standards that don’t even matter to anyone else but me.
Of course, having that realization isn’t quite enough to suddenly reprogram a lifetime of thinking, and it’s going to take a long time to fully separate my definition of success from my concept of self-worth, but it’s allowing me to become more realistic and gentle with myself as I start to consider what I want the next few years to look like, and what success really is. I think it’s still fair to have material goals for myself, but I’m also able to start giving more weight to my personal successes as well.
In the next few years, I’d like to get back to a place where I’m able to independently support myself again and am building my work as an editor to a point where I’m able to have a full-time career that I find fulfilling and exciting. To me, that’s what being successful will look like.
But also, I want to continue building and maintaining the friendships I have, and be able to dedicate time to my non-work related passions like theatre and making art for the fun of it, not just to pay bills. If I’m able to do that, even if I don’t meet my material goals, that’s really what being successful will look like.
It definitely makes me sad that I haven’t been recognizing my personal successes for what they are, but as I work to release all of the screwed up, impossible standards I have for myself, I’m finally understanding. Though I may not have the career I want yet, or my own apartment, and I’m not always able to pay my bills on time, I’ve still been able to fill my life with fun, rich experiences and so many incredible, beautiful people who I love and who love me right back.
Even in the times when I’ve only had $1.25 to my name, I’ve really been the luckiest, most successful version of myself all along.