While reading an article by fellow author, Rachelle Ayala a few weeks ago about things she's learned after four years of self-publishing, this idea came to me - similar, but on a broader scale.
When my daughter was a teenager, I remember her calling me at work one day to tell me she was bored. "Bored?" I asked. "How can you possibly be bored?"
"Well, I finished all my homework, cleaned up, and got my things ready for tomorrow. There's nothing else to do."
Of course, being the sweet, understanding mother I am, I said "Read a damn book, girl and stop calling me at work with foolishness! How can you be bored when there's so much to be learned? So many things to explore?"
Since birth, my health has been a challenge. Born with a heart murmur, expected to be paraplegic at best after developing rheumatic heart at 5, and the saga goes on and on, I've always raced against time in a sense, striving for something. Thank God, I developed a love for books as early as I can remember, and feigned reading as a toddler after my parents had read the same books to me over and over again.
So, what is that something? Success. Each person defines success in her or his own way, based on unique purpose. Every time a child is born, that child enters the world to fulfill a purpose, unique to the individual, and only that one person can fulfill this purpose in a particular way. My definition of success is synonymous with fulfillment.
If neither money, education, location, nor time were factors, what would you do with your life? How would you spend your time here? Keep in mind that this should be something you have a natural affinity for; otherwise, it is most likely irrelevant to your purpose. In answering this question, you begin writing your own, personal definition of success, unmitigated by the response or lack thereof from others: thus, it becomes something lasting and attainable.
For me, success is defined by setting and attaining certain life goals. Leaving something tangible behind (my books, music, etc.) - not limited by monetary value, touching lives in a positive way so positive energy remains after I'm gone, and fully grasping and appreciating those fleeting moments of joy, peace, and satisfaction. An added bonus is having someone special to share it with.
What are you naturally good at? What could you be great at with some additional education and instruction? What do you enjoy? Just because you're good at something doesn't necessarily mean you enjoy it, so balance is important. What's unique about you? Could be a particular quirk people tend to remark about, or it could be a total package deal. During this short life, how can you leave your own indelible mark on the world, preferably in a positive way?
In terms of goals, there are goals specific to each area of my life that mean a great deal to me, but one thing I learned a long time ago, is that while everybody loves a winner, holding that position is fleeting at best. People are fickle. Whether you've written a bestseller or landed a fantastic job, your influence and notoriety have a shelf-life. People in general flock to the latest, hottest news for a time, then forget about it tomorrow. This is why it's so important to define success and fulfillment for yourself and never rely on the response of others.
Now you might be thinking "but what if attaining some of those goals depends on the reactions of others?" Often, some of our goals do, and the key to being satisfied with the attainment of those goals is to celebrate, record, and collect those moments, but keep in mind that the short memory of others in no way taints or diminishes the fact that you have accomplished something important to you.
One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was when I received my Bachelor's degree. I received a huge notebook filled with my accomplishments from elementary school through college. Every grade report, sports ribbon, pictures of trophies, special letter from a teacher or principal, every music recital, every writing award, college entrance exam scores, every news article, every concert, President's List announcement, sorority or other organizational award was all there.
One of my favorite movie lines from "Shall We Dance," with Richard Gere and Michelle Pfeiffer comes to mind when I think about that notebook (which I still have, BTW). Michelle Pfeiffer is talking about the importance of having someone special in your life who loves you, and says "...to know that someone bears witness to your life...that someone else shares your ups and downs..." Or something to that effect, but you get my point. This is the mark of relationship success - perfect example of having someone special to share it with.
I could go on about this for days, maybe even weeks, but in short, if you haven't already, write your own definition of success based on your natural abilities and desires. Not only is this the key to success; it's the key to living a fulfilling, focused, happy life, impervious to the whims of others.