As you can probably tell from yesterday’s post on “work,” professional accomplishment and material gain have been important components of my life up until now. It was drilled into my head from a very young age that being successful in life meant getting a good job, making a lot of money, and having a significant amount of power and influence over others (typically the stuff administrative positions are made of). These messages came from my parents; both, who solidly bought into the heteronormative expectations of male roles that still exist today.
They made no secret that these were the things they wanted for me. Like any normal teenager, I fought against their wishes “tooth and nail.” I avoided responsibility, opting to take my sweet time finishing my undergraduate degree, going through multiple majors (Geology? Really?) and avoiding gainful employment with every fiber of my being. Ah, those were the days.
Life panned out very differently, obviously. I grew up. When it came down to “brass tacks,” I hunkered down, found a career, and did my parents proud (I hope) by excelling in my chosen field and doing rather well for myself, materially. Position and salary were my main markers for success and I was feeling pretty good about myself, until that feeling started to gradually dissolve away.
An overwhelming sense of being unfulfilled with my so-called “success” sent me into an existential crisis. I didn’t know what things meant, anymore. I didn’t know what I meant or why I was here. This—of course—sent me searching for answers. It was not until I picked-up what is probably the most meaningful book I own that things started to come together for me, internally. The light bulb turned on.
True Prosperity by Yehuda Berg changed my life, forever. Being somewhat of a “Winter Texan Kabbalist” (meaning I believe in its tenets and teachings, but don’t put them into practice until my world starts getting cold), I looked to spirituality to fix my problems (or at least help me navigate my way through them). I picked up the book at a bookstore, immediately drawn to the title for obvious reasons. As I read it, I found it had a different message to deliver. Sure, it spoke of prosperity and now to get it via a spiritual means, but it offered so much more than that.
I was, immediately, challenged to re-think my paradigms around “success.” While my perceptions of success were accurate—in terms of career and financial security—I discovered that these things were only part of a larger and (in my case) incomplete whole. Like most ego-obsessed males, I constantly reflected upon my own accomplishments to validate my life choices, always asking myself the same things: “Are you where you want to be, professionally? How can you make more money? How can you be more?” It all bordered upon obsession.
What I came to realize is that my self-assessment was incomplete. These were important questions to ask, however, so I do not want to suggest that professional and financial advancement are in any way negative. I do mean to say that they are not everything.
While I could with great confidence acknowledge that I was successful as a mental health professional and teacher, I could not speak with as much authority in the other areas of my life. Was I a success as a son? A brother? An uncle? A father of fur-babies? A friend? A lover? No, I was not. How could I be with so much focus placed on me and the image I was trying to maintain. That was the problem. That was why life, regardless of the things I could boast about, left me feeling empty inside.
So, now, with my eyes opened, I still aim for success, but in a more holistic way. I factor in things like happiness and relationships, socializing and family, and alone time with the pups. Most of all, I focus on fulfillment in all the things that are meaningful to me. Those are my new primary markers for success…with big bucks still lingering somewhere in the periphery. What else can I say? I am still a work in-progress.
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