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I was listening to a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, ZigZag, and the host Manoush asked listeners to respond to the question: What does success mean to you?

My brain went immediately blank.

It’s not as if I haven't considered this question of success. In fact, I had long ago picked this question for this month’s Honestly newsletter, and have spent a great deal of time mulling over it in the last few months. Yet without fail, I always clam up when someone asks me this question, because I’m never quite sure WHICH metric of success is most important at any given moment. I have several definitions of success that change over time. I suspect I'm not alone in that tendency.

Success is such a weird thing. Depending on what you place value on, success can be defined as your number of Instagram followers, and how much money you make, or less quantifiable things like how happy you are, and whether you’re following your true passion in your work and life.

In other words, success is unique, changes over time, is often complicated, and always depends on your priorities. What I would have considered success in my teens (scoring 15+ points in a basketball game, along with having several excellent defensive stops), is now a pipe dream.

Oh to be young and agile on the basketball court again…

As life circumstances change, so do our definitions of success. So when I think about this question of what success means for me right now, I’m not focusing solely on success in my work. I'm more focused on my definitions for success in how I'm approaching my daily life.
 

So to me, right now, success looks like risking the pain of hope. 


This is a different answer than I would have given even just a couple of months ago. But I’ve reached a point in my journey where I’m taking some pretty big risks - with my work, and my heart - in ways that are big and scary to me.

What is it they say, when you make your plans, hopes, and dreams known, the universe laughs? 


I don’t know about you, but the universe has been laughing at my expense quite a bit lately...

Though hoping for good things in life is an important part of being alive, it's also sometimes dangerous, risky. Hope opens you up to the pain of disappointment. When you put yourself out there, when you hope for something other than your current status quo, you're risking failure, disappointment, loss. It's scary sometimes.

It will probably not come as a surprise to any of you that I like to be in control and be clear on the outcomes I’m working for, even if I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to reach them. I like resting in the knowledge that if I work hard enough, success will come. That’s how my life worked for many years. Work hard, get what you want. 

But I’m learning that success in some areas of my life is not determined by my work ethic. Nor is success governed by my faith, or the belief that things will “just work out like they’re supposed to.” Those words have long felt hollow and empty to me.

Because what if “how they’re supposed to” is contrary to “what I’m deeply hoping for?” Am I hoping for the wrong thing? Am I just not cut out for the thing I want, no matter how hard I’m willing to work for it? Do I just have to accept deep disappointment because things just “didn’t work out” the way I wanted them too? 

I hope not. 

Right now, success in my day-to-day life is about is being willing to risk the pain that comes with hoping for something that may never come. To risk taking the steps down a path with no guarantee that “it’ll all work out how it’s supposed to.” To take the leap of faith, scared, knowing that I might hit the hard rock bottom of disappointment and a broken heart.

To me, success is even considering taking that risk in the first place, let alone actually taking proactive steps down an uncertain path.

At this point in my life, success is not about the bottom line, the number of followers, the money I make, or even how “balanced” my life is. 

Success is about living bravely and taking risks even though pain is pretty much a guarantee. It's finding ways to cope when things get really hard. It's knowing deep down that hard days pass, just as the good ones do. It's feeling the fear - of pain, loss, failure - and doing the hard thing anyway. 

Success is about running toward risk, toward pain, toward hope.

And living that way is really freaking hard some days. Which is why, when I can embrace that risk of the pain of hope openly, and with a full heart and a deep breath, I consider it a huge success. 

So what does success look like for you? Is it about building a following? Finding balance in your life? Embracing fear and uncertainty? Loving deeply even though pain is guaranteed? 

Let me know - I love hearing your stories. 

Honestly yours,
Sara

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I Am Yours

Author: Reema Zaman

I Am Yours by Reema Zaman is a searingly beautiful memoir tackling complex issues of race, body image, and life as a woman. It's artfully constructed, and from the very beginning you're along for the ride with its ups and downs, and twists and turns. If you're looking for a great memoir written with raw power and honesty, I Am Yours is your book.

Find it here.

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