birthday messages on the chalkboard
Tonight, I’m meeting with my Word of the Year friends. This will mark nearly a decade of participating in this ritual. I’m not positive I can remember all of the words chosen, but here are most of them, from oldest to newest: Create. Imagine. Spirit. Heart. Work/Play. Stretch. Success.
Success was my most recent word: the word for 2014. Chosen in anticipation of a big year career-wise; chosen because I realized that I was terrified and strangely ashamed by the idea of Success, and I wanted to explore why. I tried, but didn’t dig very far into the why. Maybe that would have required therapy. But I dug deep into the idea of Success and its meanings, its definitions, and learned that it’s very personal. There are external markers of Success that we tend to rely on: how much we earn, what we own, how much recognition we receive for our efforts.
Conversely, there are internal markers of Success that no one else will ever see or recognize. These are your values. What matters to you. What you care about. And it may just be that what you care about doesn’t align perfectly with what the world cares about.
That’s good to know. It helped me during this year to separate my own hopes and disappointments and dreams from the hopes and disappointments and dreams out there.
It was a good year, there’s no doubt about it. What I remember best and value most are the friendships and connections. New connections, ongoing friendships, give and take, small adventures. Fun. I’ll remember a gathering of friends and family in my living-room, singing and playing on the night I turned 40. I’ll remember skiing with a friend in the bitter cold last winter; and with the kids too. I’ll remember the generosity of friends hosting and feeding me in London, England last spring. And being part of the Published-A-Book-In-Canada Class of 2014 on tour this past fall. Looking back, it’s the people, I see.
I’m good with that definition of Success: not as a popularity contest, but as the formation of real bonds, strong connections.
Think of those throngs of people marching in Paris yesterday. To my mind, that is Success: an outpouring of collective, peaceful strength.
Up next: word of the year, 2015. Stay tuned.
I want to write about a subject of some difficulty to process and confess.
I’ve been thinking about how I ascribe value to the things that I do. If something is hard, I assign it greater value. If something comes easy, I assign it less. Therefore, when a task or job or skill comes naturally for me, I tend to shrug off its worth. Oh, that was easy, that was nothing.
I respond to success by accepting or seeking out tasks of greater difficulty. I readily take on challenges. I choose to do the things that will be hard precisely because they will be hard. I take on this work in order to improve underused or underdeveloped skills, and to force myself out of my comfort zone. I choose it on the premise that it’s healthy for the ego and the soul to attempt and practice activities, tasks, or jobs that expose inner flaws, that force one to confront fears, that are therefore in many ways gut-wrenchingly difficult. Any accomplishment that comes out of such a frightening and challenging place is, frankly, astonishing and wonderful.
But I’m beginning to question the wisdom, at this time in my life, of this approach.
I’m beginning to wonder whether by tackling tasks of great challenge and difficulty, tasks that do not necessarily align with my natural talents, I’m unconsciously selling myself short. Rather than resting and calling myself to go more deeply into that which comes (superficially) easily, am I displaying a kind of boredom and restlessness, a mind that demands constant stimulation, even in negative form?
I seem to be good at writing fiction. Storytelling comes easy to me, more easy than anything else I’ve ever tried, always has, as far back as I can remember. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s what I need to focus on, strictly, as a life-long cause, as a hard-earned practice.
Just because something comes easy doesn’t mean it’s not hard, that’s what I’m beginning to perceive, to glimpse, ever so dimly. In fact, it may be the more difficult path because it comes easy, because I fail to value it, because ease can lead to boredom, because by delving deeper into a natural-born talent I risk discovering my limits. And that’s bloody terrifying, way scarier than failing at something I already know I’m not particularly good at.
It seems that the challenge that’s before us is not always the most obvious.