I just finished dancing in my barn loft office, the place where I write for the animals and on behalf of women. It’s been a few days. Four, even. But I feel better that I did. I could feel thoughts releasing, moving through. I could see myself. I could feel my body again. I feel more aligned. I needed to dance today – I forced myself. I’ve been on the floor with failure since Friday, feeling the plug of writing and advocacy has been pulled and I have no direction in which to turn, no bread crumbs on some inspired, creative path ala Tama Keives, my wonderful and ever-optimistic career catalyst coaching icon, who I cannot afford to hire for the money this career isn’t making.
I’ve been wanting to feel successful in having rebuilt my life after sudden divorce ten years earlier, that I found ways to support myself financially with my creative energy and intellect. Especially since leaving that marriage meant leaving that law firm (and that lucrative income).
Instead, I’ve been struggling and straining, efforting and learning, signing up for one online writers’ course after workshop after freelance group, opening up to opportunities never forthcoming because well, I’m not a social media slut and I prefer face-to-face interactions with real human beings.
So today, I have no direction – yet – for how success will now feel to me.
I am telling myself that today I don’t have to.
After falling down with failure yet again, I feel done with forcing outcomes for what success should look like to me. I simply don’t know. I’ve never done this before. What I do know is that the former’s version or the husband’s version or the dominant patriarch’s version cannot be my version. Success for me as I may one day define it will feel authentically like my own version, as it will have been built from the constituent components of me.
No one else is going to have the privilege to define my success. If I feel it in every cell of my being, that will be enough for me.
What, then, is my version of success?
It’s feeling healthy and strong, embodying my athletic life, being able to move and be physical as I want to express myself. It’s having animals in my life that I can relate and give back to, animals in need where they had no one before, hearing sighs of contentment after a long walk in our valley. It’s watching cats sleep on the back of a chair, cats living in the shelter for months unwanted. It’s getting to see the mama Tanager feed suet to to her splashy sub-adult male offspring on the Ponderosa Pine next to the house. It’s having friends who call in need of a listening ear or a compassionate heart because they feel comfortable doing so. It’s having my sweet husband say thank you for cleaning that floor / making that lunch, because he noticed and was listening to how unacknowledged I have been feeling. It’s having someone reflect back to me that they felt moved by an animal piece I wrote and tell me how it affected them.
I’ve been spending time with society’s version of success a lot lately. It was highlighted in a recent interview with the Career Advisor at my alma mater. I walked out of that meeting soul-crushed. Perhaps you should take a break from trying so hard, just for a while, do something else, she said softly.
I couldn’t answer for my throat was filled with resentment and grief. My mind couldn’t process for it was filled with confusion. My body couldn’t engage, for it was spent and depleted.
It’s been ten years since I left my old life, and I’ve been trying to earn income doing what I love since then, I replied weakly. She didn’t need to be told again how obsolete I felt in a world steeped in technology, or how I felt left out of the world of productive, engaged and contributing adults. I was certain she’d heard the tired story before. And she didn’t need to offer the platitude, Do what you love and the money will follow, because no one in a serious career at an accredited university actually believes that.
And, I didn’t have to wait for the sarcastic, superficial query often originating from the less sincere – How’s that working out for you? – my presence had already answered the question.
I’ ve answered that question myself. I walked out of her office, feeling failure deep in my being. It persisted deeply into the weekend, crying hard through the moments when I could have otherwise been enjoying the downtime with my sweetly loving husband. (Though I did resonate with all the micro-stories in Little Miss Sunshine, particularly the moment when Bryan Cranston tells Greg Kinnear, No one’s heard of you, crushing his fiery, divinely inspired motivational speaking dreams.)
So, today’s a new day. After I allowed the failure to hang out with me like an unwelcome dark traveler for a while, I decided to take the baby step of doing the little things that I love – walking our dogs, dancing, writing – and looking at that wonderful and well-meaning Career Advisor’s e-mail for her next suggestion. (I have now decided that I will create a system for how to proceed in the next phase for my advocacy work in the way of asking those already situated in their careers, How did you get there, and keep writing.) I will keep advocating for the lives and well-being of animals and complete my essay collection on coexistence with wildlife here in the mountains, though a proper title eludes me. And I will decide that my version of success is authentically my own, not anything defined by anyone outside of me.
Just for today, my raison d’être will be taking care of my animals who were all thrown out of society’s flow and into the repository of shelters. I will make delicious meals for my sweet husband, care for my physical self. I will answer the call to show up for whichever friend needs a compassionate ear, and write what comes through my mind or lives deep within my heart on behalf of a rescue dog in need or a moose gone unnoticed in our mountain valley, so that people won’t drive up here unaware.
Just for today.