The Meaning of Success, or “Can I trade my G.P.A. in for chocolate?”

I admit it, I’m something of a nerd. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, and I’d read all of Tolkien’s books long before the movies were a glint in Peter Jackson’s eyes. One my favorite characters of all time is Data, the android on Star Trek: Next Generation, whose greatest dream was to be human. That, to Data, defined success.

For me, well, I haven’t ever really tried to define it. While I’ve always given everything I have to challenges I encounter, mostly due to an overwhelming competitive nature and a desire to constantly learn new things, I see these challenges as “ends unto themselves” rather than “stepping stones”. I’ve never had a ‘5-year plan’, a ‘where do you want to be in …?’ view of my life or of my future.

This came home to me yesterday, at the dinner table. Now, my husband is a kind man, and would never willingly be hurtful, but he lacks some form of essential processing between the formation of words and their utterance. So we were all talking about the Hobbit, with the movie coming out soon, and I mentioned how in 4th grade I did a book report on the Hobbit, and created a diorama with Gollum and Bilbo in the caves. They were like “You read the Hobbit in 4th grade” and I was like “yeah.” Karl, my husband, then expressed awe at my amazing potential as a child, followed up with the words: “What happened?” Still thinking we were talking about the Hobbit, I thought he wanted … a plot summary? But then, I realized, he meant, “With my life.”

I took his words further, to mean: “Why was someone who read the Hobbit at 9, who was a National Merit Scholar, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from William and Mary in 3 years, someone with SO MUCH POTENTIAL making dinner for a basically unappreciative family (ok, I’m not the best cook), taking classes at a local community college, being a poor excuse for a housewife … why had my life come to this? Why was I such a failure?”

Now, I’ve never thought of myself as a failure. My goal has never been to be the next great (fill-in-the-blank). When I encounter a challenge, I strive to meet it, so I excel at academics, but that’s at least as much due to hard work and persistence as any natural intellectual gift. I had a soul-searching night last night, in which I really pondered the question, ‘What defines Success’?

For me, it’s not money, and not the status associated with things. I drive my 1999 Honda Civic, and let me tell you, that car has seen me through some lean times, times when I had no money for worrying about a car’s needs. That car and I, we’re together as long as it can get me places. I have a flip phone, which suits me fine, since I have a computer for apps after all. I suppose if I had wanted to enter a high-profile, high-paying career, I could have, but it never crossed my mind. I wanted family, people I could love and take care of, and who would take care of me. My heroes on tv were people like Phoebe from Friends, and Dharma from Dharma & Greg … they, to me, epitomized success. They were free, and honest, and happy.

So, now I’m an artist who gives away far more art than I sell, a student who loves the act of learning more than the concept of a degree, and a blogger who loves my 40+ followers as if they were 400,000. I see my kids off to school in the morning, and I welcome them home in the afternoon. I cook dinner for my family every night, I buy my clothes from Goodwill, and I have never once in my entire life gotten my nails done. I have a wonderful husband whom I love with all my heart. I live an honest and ethical existence, I never overspend my means, and I appreciate the gifts in my life every single day. I can’t help but think that I’m a success.

How do you define success?

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