Redefining Success.

February 3, 2012 at 9:20 am | Posted in Career angst, Crazy Talk (aka: Therapy) | 14 Comments

Success, for me, was defined in my early years of school.

Though I was smart, I was unorganized and forgetful. I would forget about homework, or I’d put the piece of paper in my desk and find it, months later, crumpled in the back.

It became an issue for me in the fourth grade, when we had homework in a number of subjects every night. More often than not, I forgot about it. Or left it at school. Or lost it on the way home.

And early on, in those years, whenever I realized, I’d feel this awful sense of shame and stupidity.

Which, honestly, was reinforced at home. So many times my mother would yell at me, What were you THINKING, Serenity?

The answer was I wasn’t. I was a kid who was really in the moment, I tried things out by doing, I wanted to learn on my own. I did stuff to figure out what happened.

And then I started getting into trouble, more and more, for school issues. I’d forget, then try and hide the fact that I forgot.

And my parents punished me for the lying and hiding.

And they tried to control me more because they didn’t trust me.

And I fought them by being rebellious and NOT doing my homework.

Essentially, my life with them became one big power struggle. Where I fought and resisted and fought.

As a parent now, I can empathize with them. I can imagine their discussions when I was in bed.

What the hell are we going to DO about her?

They tried their best. It just so happened that their tactics were not the ones that were best for me as a child.

So as the years went on, I CHOSE to be bad at school.

I didn’t care about grades, I’d tell my friends. I didn’t bother studying for stuff I didn’t care about, because it wasn’t important.

Even though my parents harped on my grades.

Even though, at night, I felt awful and stupid and wished I could just figure out how to be that straight-A student my parents seemed to want.

I threw my energy into playing the clarinet. Because if I couldn’t be awesome at school, I might as well be good at playing music.

Somehow I got through and graduated high school, squarely in the middle of the graduating class.

It wasn’t until college when I realized that I couldn’t just skate by. I vividly remember – it was the semester after my cousin Amy died that I just couldn’t manage my courseload.

(Really, I couldn’t manage anything at that point.)

That semester, I got a 1.75. Which brought my cumulative GPA to 2.5.

And brought back that sense of shame and stupidity I remembered so well from my early school years.

So I decided then and there that I was in college and was going to make it count. If Amy couldn’t live, I was going to live for her. I was going to be an adult.

Enter the Overachiever Years.

I have spent the past 18 years working really, really hard. For a girl who brought home Cs in math nearly her whole life, getting two advanced degrees which require a familiarity with numbers: (MBA and MS Accounting) and then, on top, a CPA?

I turned it around.

And somehow, being Good at What I Do has entwined with my self-esteem.

On the days where I manage everything, and feel good at everything? I am on top of the world.

Except that recently I haven’t been good at much.

First, IF. Clearly I suck at getting (and staying) pregnant. And no amount of intellectualizing can erase the feeling of failure at that.

Then, running. I ran a marathon this fall. It was awesome. Except, you know, for the tendinitis. Which has made it awful to run right now – EVERY ONE of my runs since then has been with varying levels of discomfort.

And worse, I’m back to thinking that a 4 mile run is really long.

So when this all blew up this week, here, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I felt the same sense of shame and stupidity that I felt all those years ago in fourth grade.

I KNOW that leaving is the right choice.

But it means leaving behind my definition of success, too. The one that has governed me for 18 years now, and which took root 25 years ago.

In one of my sessions, my therapist asked me, What would happen if you let yourself fail*?

Well, the world would stop and I’d break apart, of course, I responded.

On my way into work today, I wondered though. Because I feel like leaving here would be admitting failure.

But I can’t stay here, either.

So. What WOULD happen if I allowed myself to “fail” by my definition?

Guess we’ll have to see.

My boss is on vacation until Wednesday, which is the day we’ll file our quarterly financials. Which is also the day I intend on giving my notice.

I keep hearing, in my head, all these excuses to stay here.

The devil you know is the devil you don’t, Serenity.

Are you SURE you want to walk away from this?

You’re going to disappoint your boss.

There’s still so much work that needs to be done, you’re going to make it really hard on your coworkers.

You didn’t live up to expectations; you have to make it better so you can leave on a good note.

Leaving is fucking terrifying.

But I’m going to to it anyway.

(Hold me.)

*By my definition, of course. She’s made it clear that Fail, to me, is fairly pronounced.



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  1. I could have written this 2 years ago. Like you so much of ‘me’ was the success I was at my career. You are making a choice to leave, to end your relationship with a toxic work environment. One that has the potential to hurt your relationship with those that matter: Lucky and Charlie Brown.

    I get what you’re feeling. I do. As time moves on this will not seem like a ‘fail’. It will seem like a logical choice that was hard to make. Most choices that we have a real stake in are difficult, no matter how obvious the right choice is to others.

    Sure, sure, the devil you don’t know. However, you know what? You have the choice, the freedom to make that devil work for you. At current company? You do not. You won’t. Ever. You think you’ll be disappointing your boss, your coworkers? How about your boss disappointing YOU, we don’t make mistakes in a vacuum. There is a reason for bosses and coworkers and checks and balances in the work place.

    Making this leap is scary, but so was training for a marathon. You have GOT this Serenity. You do. And I’m here to help in any way I can.

  2. I’d argue that making this choice is the very opposite of failure, because it means you have succeeded in putting you and your family and your happiness first, and if that’s not in the win column, I don’t know what is.

  3. Dittoing what Mer said – to me your post screams WINNING, because you’re putting your wishes ahead of everyone else’s – your boss’s, your co-workers’. The world will not end on Wednesday, in fact, I think your future looks pretty sunny. One step at a time, just like running that marathon. xo

  4. That exchange with your therapist kind of reminds me of the famous conversation between Macbeth and Lady M:

    Macbeth: If we should fail?

    Lady Macbeth: We fail! (or maybe “we fail?” — it’s all in the punctuation)

    Although, come to think of it, things didn’t work out so well for them. So if your aim were to become supreme ruler of all Scotland by committing a series of treacherous murders, I’d probably urge you to reconsider.

    However. You’ve got a clear goal in mind and a well-thought out plan to get there. I have huge amounts of faith and confidence in you and your ability to handle whatever challenges you face.

  5. Yup… I agree with everyone else. All wise women, as are you.

  6. I think all working moms have this choice at one point or another of their working lives–to make a leap that is for the family. And in the end, this is what it is about–the success of your family. You have to be able to make the family work and succeed. You need to be a happy individual to help make that team effort of the family work. And this job doesn’t work towards that goal. So, in the end…just as everyone else says–this will be a success for you, not a fail. πŸ™‚

    On a personal note, I know that I went through a decision many years ago whether to pursue what my “passion” (what I went to school for, studied for, spent all that money for) was or did I want to build a family. I had to decide, and while there are times at various jobs I have told myself “really, I did not go to school for this crap”–I come home and I look at my family–and know that my “career” doesn’t define me as a success or failure. πŸ™‚

    Wishing you the best!

  7. I would argue that the fairer approach would be to redefine failure.

  8. Good luck πŸ™‚

  9. Listen to your gut. XOXO

  10. Serenity, I was where you are a year ago … and it is f*ing HARD to walk away. It took me four months to get the courage to do it. And I, too, had a childhood filled with questioning my self-worth, thanks to a father who expected nothing but perfection from me. I built something, and I didn’t know what I would be without it. If I could even be *anything* without it. But you know what? I had lunch with a coworker today, and she told me what it’s like there now. Honestly? I don’t think I could have felt really successful if I had to trample on my principles, my sense of integrity, my selfhood, in order to show up at that place every morning.

    I am still adrift, but I know that some day I will find the shore. You will, too. In the meantime, enjoy the sun, the wind, and the waves. Sometimes it’s beautiful out here.


    Happy to talk more if you ever want to … I’m not a therapist, but I do have perspective.

  11. I have been reading your last few posts not knowing what I wanted to say. So, I remained silent, not commenting. In all honesty, I didn’t know if you were choosing to make this change in your career now because your last cycle didn’t work and you needed to do something different to get to a different place than where you are now. Because any place is better than here.

    BUT, when you wrote “Leaving is fucking terrifying. But I’m going to to it anyway” I realized that what you are trying to do is something wonderfully COURAGEOUS. If, despite the fact that it scares you shitless, you feel compelled to do it anyway, then it is something that must be done. It isn’t about success or failure. It is about doing what you need to do for yourself.

  12. Serenity, walk into Lucky’s room. Look at his smile. THERE is your success.
    I can tell you as a woman who spent the majority of her years feeling *less than* good that I finally realized that you can’t measure your success by one or ten things. It is the whole picture you need to look at. My son recently found out that I was less than a great student. I had never shared the fact that I hated school and couldn’t wait to get out. He was stunned. The only reason I even shared it at this point was because he was questioning his own self worth and I had to step in to keep him from going down that road. I didn’t need a repeat of me.
    You are obviously an intelligent woman, have a husband and son that love you, and the desire to do well. I have NO doubt you will succeed, but know that it’s better to have a 2.5 life and be happy than a 4.0 life and be miserable.

  13. I’m just catching up a bit here. (Long story, but extremely tedious.) To be honest, although you’re terrified, I am relieved. I am really optimistic for you about this move and I’m kind of glad everything really blew up and snapped things into focus for you.

    Best of luck – the next bit is the nail-biting part.

  14. I am glad you’ve decided to jump, just wantd to check on your timing. It’s always MUCH easier to find another job when you are in work – why not wait til you’ve found your new thing?

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