Saturday, September 26, 2009

What Is Success?

Sitting home tonight, as Randi wraps up her clinic in entertaining a crowd at Expressing Motherhood. In her bio for the show she said she was married to blogger David Serchuk. Maybe I should put that on my tax forms?

The cats are doing their thing, Stella's baby monitor is humming in the background (I am hearing her white noise machine) and the place is kind of a wreck. I have all these "anti spyware" popups all over my computer, which, of course ARE spyware.

In my brief exercise in out-loud thought tonight I am going to wonder about success. Just what is it? And how can I feel like I have it, or more of it? And does anyone feel like a total success, or do we all have battles that we pick and choose in order to feel successful?

I grew up the son of a very successful, self-made businessman. I was then, and remain very proud of my dad for his hard work, brilliant brain, tenacity and creativity. And for the fact that he could provide a comfortable living for his brood. On the surface of things I should have simply tried to replicate his success, go into his line of work, at his company, that he made. But I didn't. A few things happened and I will try to explain them succinctly.

One problem is I found I really, really liked writing. Even loved it sometimes, when it went well. My heroes started to become all these weird writer guys, sometimes around age 14, or so, when most of us start to formulate stronger ideas about who we are and what we do.

Another thing is that my parents separated when I was 11 and divorced when I was 17, with six hard, acrimonious years in between. During these key years I started to question what it's all about, as I saw my dad a good deal less than I had when my parents were together. But even when they were together he would frequently leave for long business trips. I started to call the whole enterprise into question. What is this "success" if it drives you away from your family for long stretches of time, and impacts relationships with those you love? What good is money without family? When do you go past sacrificing for your family to make a better life for them to sacrificing your family life for ... for what exactly?

As a teenager, though I didn't realize it, I started to become very dubious of the whole idea of becoming a big success in business. It seemed, from my view, that to spend your life pursuing the dollar, and power, would no doubt hurt those who need you the most, no matter how well you did.

I thought I would try something different. I would aim, perhaps, for the middle, at least financially. Writers, at least those on staff at real publications, do okay, but they're also doing what the love, and they don't have to sacrifice all their time, and their spirit, in order to do what they do. It would be a way to do what I care about, make the world better, do well enough to be comfortable and be with those I love.

In the past few years I've come to see a whole bunch of flaws in my original conception, of course. Being in business, for example, doesn't have to mean anything about how the person in question conducts their affairs. Whatever issues we had growing up, these were issues from my family, not because my dad was in business. It's just as easy to be unhappy and poor, as unhappy and well-enough off. There are just as many self-centered writers, to be sure, as anything else.

I've started to reconsider what I consider success. First of all, as I get older, and this is the truth, money is getting more and more important. Not for me so much. I will never be greedy, and, if it were just me, I could live simply, and close to the ground. But for Stella, the Brooklyn Baby Baby. How will I pay for the things we need? How will she go to school? Will we ever own our own home? Will she look down on me for not doing all that great? Will she think I've failed in the most basic way a dad can fail: to provide the essentials of life? Have I sacrificed her happiness for my own -- which I vowed, way back when, I would never do?

Needless to say, growing up I didn't worry about money at all. Want to know why? Because we had it.

And my plan, launched way back when, has not been fool-proof. I am a writer, and editor, at a major news source, but I'm not living as comfortably at 37 as I thought I would be. I imagined, without admitting it that somehow, magically, I would just kind of wake up one day as an adult, comfortable, doing what I like and supporting my family well enough. I am about half way there, it feels, on many days.

I could work longer hours, yes, but that would keep me away from Stella and Randi, and drive me exactly into the type of situation I hoped avoid: not seeing my family all that much, focused pretty much only on getting ahead, and isolated. If I don't do that, though, it is also a sacrifice. I work hard, and do my job well, but I'm not somewhere over the rainbow. I'm in a two bedroom duplex in Brooklyn that costs $1700 a month, and we're overjoyed we didn't have to pay a broker's fee.

So that's where I'm at tonight my friends. I hope I figure it out someday. What about you? How do you define success? Are you there yet?


Kellygirlnyc said...

You know, I have this conversation with myself weekly, if not nightly. How to define success. Some people might see my life as their success, just like I look at other people's lives (umm, hi Idina Menzel. Can I be you?) and wish I had what they had. My voice teacher has told me (when we talk about big world things) that firstly compare and despair, and secondly, you have to be o.k. with where you're at. You just do. If you constantly want for things you don't have (I don't mean goal-wise, I mean in more of an irrational way like, why me? Why am I not on Broadway yet?, etc... and so forth...) your whole life will pass you by and you'll miss the things you do have. Well, duh. I mean, hearing it always makes me go, yeah! I get it. But, then, by the time I get home, I'm like, I know this stuff, but what that interaction does with her is it makes me see that everyone has that same process. Who on this planet wakes up every morning and says, my life is perfect, I have everything I want. Well, my husband, but otherwise I don't know anyone. :)

I've started to define my success with day to day victories. Am I working on becoming who I want to be and making the life I want to make. Yes. Sometimes not as much. Sometimes in ways that I can't quite see...

In any case, that is just a LONG answer to your question and also a comment that it's nice to not feel alone in the quest for success...or at least the quest on how to define it.

David Serchuk said...

Thank you for your honest, heart-felt answer. I am like you, and have my best days when I keep focused on the task at hand, while chipping away at my goals. Success is a process, as they say, but so is thinking about success. I hope to see you and Letham soon!