• Gregory Gannon, LCSW

Re-evaluating Success

I had a discussion with someone today who told me they were starting to lose their motivation for daily activities and felt like they were "missing something" they couldn't quite explain. The things they used to like to do just didn't hold the same value anymore.

The interesting thing was, as we talked, this person went on at length about several of their passions and interests that, while different from my own, brought them immense joy at one time or another. They smiled when discussing interesting facts they discovered while reading and researching. They talked about ways they impressed their friends with little known facts and information.

So when I pointed out that this conversation seemed to excite them and I was confused as to how they could say they didn't get any joy out of it, they said this:

"I've thought about going back to school so maybe I could teach or write a book one day, but I'm too old and I feel like my chance has past me by."

I've heard these words before. Clients, family members, close friends, other professionals, they have all said something like this before. In fact, just sit in a coffee shop one day and casually listen in on the conversations happening around you and I bet someone will say this phrase or something else like it.

Some other common phrases are:

"I don't know, I don't really seeing it going anywhere."

"No one will think it's good." "I don't think it will really make me any money."

"I'm not sure I would be any good at it."

"People will question why I'm doing this when I could be doing something much more productive."

Nothing leads a person quicker to depression (and resentment later in life) than giving up on something they are passionate about. Believe me, I've met a lot of people who look back at their regrets wistfully and fall into the coulda, woulda, shoulda cycle of regret and despair.

Oftentimes people get this crazy idea in their head that in order for an activity to be worthwhile that it also has to be successful and if not then it's a waste of time.

You see it everywhere. Social media. TV. Radio. Self-Help gurus. Everyone wants to help you achieve your "best self," or achieve some measure of success that gets noticed by others. I'm sure you've all seen the "No Excuses" memes and the "I climbed [inset random mountain name] and am a single mom!" It sends a false message that if you are passionate about something then you need to go at it hard and make something of it because what's the point otherwise?

In some cultures, the value of an activity is based on the amount money it brings in, how much celebrity one gains, or the level of prestige you attain, but the reality is this: If you like to do something then do it for you. That's how we cope with everyday life.

Which leads me to a very frank conversation about redefining what success means and if it is even really that important in our daily lives. You don't need a million Instagram followers to validate your existence or even validate if you are good at something. Success can very well be teaching your neighbor a new skill they didn't have before instead of teaching at a university. It could be singing to the residents at a nursing home for Christmas instead of on Broadway.

Need to know if something you do is worthwhile? Trust your feelings. Do you feel good doing it. Then it's worthwhile. Another litmus test for if something is of value to you is: Would you stop your child from exploring something they are interested in simply because they were not a success story? Often, our willingness to allow our children the freedom to explore their interests freely is also the compass by which we could find guidance for our own desires.

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