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