This past week I had one of those weeks. It started when I began being bummed out over watching my extended family’s money issues. Then, once I got thinking about it, I began feeling worse about the fact that, because my husband and I aren’t tanking, we aren’t getting the thousands of dollars of help that other family members are getting. And I got jealous. And then I started feeling bad about outcomes in my life, about not earning more, about not being able to afford a housing in the crazy-expensive California neighborhood in which we’ve made our life.
And for a couple of days I moped around a bit, and couldn’t really get at the heart of the depressive swirl.
So I took it apart. First, I have no power over other peoples’ actions. If they want to run up debt, or not work, or give away tons of money when they’re running up credit to live, I can’t stop them. Next, I don’t want to be that girl, or that couple–the ones who are always in trouble with money and can’t seem to find the balance of living solvent. I had that drama in my life for a long time, had to crawl out, and I never, ever want it back.
So the fact that other people are getting “rewarded” for bad money behavior by being bailed out is not something I want to sign up for. I’d rather have my self-esteem intact and be self-sufficient.
So once that was settled in my heart, I had to take apart the harder stuff. That is, the illusive feeling of “success” as an artist. I know, philosophically, that every time I get bound up in my heart over outcomes and start comparing myself to others I’m in trouble. So, I tried to sit back and look at what I’m doing in my life, and ask myself if I’m dissatisfied with my daily life. Not my life overall, over a whole life’s timeline, but right now.
And truly, right now, I have everything I need. And I’m not just talking physical stuff. I’ve worked long and hard to find a day job I can live with, to set up room in my life to write books, to write and sing and record music, to paint, and to have a healthy relationship with a man whom I adore. We live in a lovely flat that we’ve put a lot of time and effort into, and it’s creative and arty and groovy. So, no, I’m not unhappy.
That said, there is always room to grow. And if I can dial down the American more-more-more rhetoric of “bigger is better and more is necessary,” I can see that success is about the work.
Success as we’ve defined it in our society is not useful. As a culture, we have defined it as getting stuff and having status. And there’s no action in that approach. There’s no feedback coming back to the heart on a daily basis in that definition.
What we’re after–certainly what I’m after–is fulfillment. And so, when I get my head in my work–in the things that matter to me–then I can set daily goals for success, daily benchmarks that help me know that I’m engaged, I’m growing, and I have my head and heart in the things that matter to me. My ‘work’ is then defined as all that I do: My loving efforts in my marriage, my health, the little things I do to please myself in a day, the adventures I create, the acts of service I offer in my job and to my friendships, and certainly, my work in my creativity. And that made sense to my heart.
So after all of that unraveling, which took a good few days, I took the afternoon off yesterday and met a good friend for a hike along the ocean-side cliffs. She offered this, “You know the house thing might not be about you. It might be about the insane prices in this area. It might be that you’re just fine, and you’re earning enough for your life, and everyone’s not supposed to be able to afford a 1.5 million dollar house.” And that also took me off the hook. Then another friend called ans said she and her husband were selling their house because it had just become a pain in the rear end to repair all the time. And I realized how much my perspective plays into my feelings of success. That being free of extra worry when I’m creating is truly a valuable thing.
The crux of all this is, how do I–and how do we, as creative people–direct our attention back to what’s truly important when we’re spinning in jealously or low self-esteem? And here is is: We can come back, every time, to knowing that our happiness is in the work. It is in the service of our hands, our engaged willingness, and the giving of our hearts. It is, in the end, not about stuff and status. It’s about offering our well-cultivated vision to our world, or willingness to repair and bring beauty to our world.
Success, broken down in daily acts of courage, kindness and creativity not only heals the world, it heals our hearts. And knowing that again today, has healed mine.