Success! I guess…?

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of success a lot, having just had another birthday – certainly a different one to what I was expecting as my first birthday in the UK. I have also been thinking about success because I have recently undertaken some personal agility coaching from the wonderful Jenna Hills. In Jenna’s words on her website, coaching “will help you articulate, out loud, who you are and what is meaningful to you”, and with that consideration of meaningfulness comes a drive to identify goals that matter to you and work towards them. They don’t have to be the same as the goals your friend, sister, colleague or partner is growing towards, and that’s a flipping relief. But it is also a bit of a shift, because we are pretty trained to live a life of comparison.

I have been coming out of a season of life that has been non-stop; and that has also been not so much a season, but most of life. During high school, the non-stop was extra murals and wanting to do it all, from debating to art to hockey to orchestra. In undergrad, I added a new addiction to my busy, ballroom and latin dancing, also featuring committee work that taught me lots about balancing politics and people and commitments. After varsity, I started work, but because I’m not good at slowing down, my (then-not-yet) husband and I started participating in competitive ballroom and latin, a step up from the social scene we had been part of… Jeez.

Running a very stupid trail relay that I was waaaay undertrained for because I had been too busy dancing, writing, freelancing and doing some other stuff too.
Competing in a national competition in Sun City, South Africa
The craziest, most focused few weeks of work I’ve ever done – and I loved it.

Then, last year, from mid-year, I experienced a shift in my life. I was in an unexpected lull between having submitted my MSc thesis, having resigned my job before starting the next one (delayed due to visa woes), I got married, and for a while, I could just… be.

Marrying my champion – best day ever! (Photo credit: Anton Kruger)

I am not good at just being. This was really hard!

I am such a human doing!

Rethinking what success looks like

So I’ve been thinking about the meaning of success, and what I’ve understood it to mean in my life so far, and how I’m understanding it now, in a somewhat more slow-paced job than I have had previously (to put it mildly), without additional university deadlines mounting panic every two weeks, and additionally in the context of the (redacted redacted) that is impacting us all.

There are the things that I have always understood as success, things that were markers that I was on the right path, that I was going to manage to be an amazing detective/genius world-famous author/genius by the time I was 30. Things like ticking the boxes on The Great Plan ™, getting fancy degrees, achieving certificates/accolades… doing the things I ought to be doing, all that shit. (Sorry, Mom, mild language).

Not all there is to success

Yes, it is totally obvious and rational that those sorts of box-ticky, ordered plan for life things are not the be-all and end-all of success, but sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in them, right? Especially when you are, by nature, a human doing.


I’ve been taking note recently of what my life looks like when I’m doing well, and using that as markers of success. What don’t I do when I’m doing well? (I don’t overthink text messages when I’m doing well, and I’m less highly strung). What negative behaviours can I avoid being sucked into when I’m doing well? Honestly, I’m still figuring that one out, but I think at least one area I’m improving in is stepping away from endless scrolling. (Sidebar: how often do you stop checking facebook on your laptop to check the little version of facebook on your phone?)

Brene Brown uses the term ‘canaries’ (like in a coal mine) for those behaviours we can watch for that when we spot them, we know something’s going wrong. I’m flipping that a little, looking for the things I know reflect me in a healthy mindspace. Here are some things I have space/time/energy/bandwidth for when I’m less focused on an achievement-driven definition of success:

  • Learning! LEARNING SO DAMN MUCH! (Currently learning to code with EdX’s edition of Harvard’s famous CS50 Intro to Computer Science course. Learning C is kicking my butt, but mostly in a good way.)
  • Writing (and posting) more and more regularly. I will get to some sort of write-post rhythm, dammit! Getting more regular and disciplined about exercise (until the killer ear infection of 2020 struck). I’m planning to run a half marathon in September/October with my sister 🙂
  • Culinary experimentation! I got an Instant Pot from my parents for my birthday, and I am loving my new kitchen gadget. May occasionally post a recipe.
  • Lastly, some kind of spiritual practice. While this is not my place to write about that stuff, and while my spiritual practice looks quite different to my experience in my teens, I’ve enjoyed returning to some deeper thoughts, meditation and contemplating a somewhat more eternal timescale.

So, all of those things are good markers of success for me at the moment, and good indicators of my mental health. As daft as it is, cooking is a major canary for me. So, I’ll keep an eye on my canary, and practice just being rather than doing a bit more.

After all, there’s always tomorrow for doing things, and my oven just beeped to tell me to check on supper.

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