It got me thinking about the definition of success, and about how my definitions have changed over the years. There was a time when "success" for me would have meant following my dream to become a stage actress. But as I explored that possibility, I became disenchanted because when I seriously examined what I was doing, I realized I got bored during the run of a play. While it was always fun at the outset -- the read-through, the first rehearsal, figuring out the character -- to play a Tennessee Williams villain, or to take up smoking in an effort to make inhaling look realistic to the audience, in the end it all just got a little dull.
When I set out on a quest to find a new spark, a purpose, the meaning of life, my definitions grew fuzzy for a long time before they came back into focus. I remember -- sometime in my twenties, I think -- a friend's mother saying that she was worried about me. I was "just drifting." I had no plan for success, no goals. Where was I going, she wondered?
I didn't know where I was going either. I was worried about me, too. If I had crafted a plan entitled, "How to Achieve Happiness, Relative Emotional Stability, a Strong Marriage, and a Highly Imperfect But Fulfilling Life," that plan would not have included, "Have a conversion to Christianity, abandon everything you thought you believed, become a Catholic, give up birth control, have babies and miscarriages, and trust God even when life is annoyingly hard and challenging." Point A and Point B would not have appeared, in my previous perceptions, to ever, ever merge.
But when I decided that my priority in life -- my one thing, my definition of success -- was to figure out what I did and did not believe in, other things began to fall into place. My faith, my marriage, my family ... that's my hierarchy. It's the kind of hierarchy that Atticus and I have tried to teach our daughters, too. Get things figured out with God and the rest will eventually follow. Writing, for example.
That doesn't mean that life won't require discernment, courage, the discipline of an education, or that our children can skip sifting through the often-confusing choices available to young women in the career and family arenas. It doesn't mean their lives are predetermined, predestined, or guaranteed to be easy. It simply means that if they define success in spiritual terms -- How's stuff going with us, God? Are we good? -- the worldly terms don't much matter, and the worldly choices become a little clearer. A successful life might end up including stage acting, or it might not. It might mean being an at-home mom, or teaching in a public school and hearing kids tell you that you made a difference to them. It could mean a loud, public life, or a quiet, hidden one.
Their one thing. That's what I want my daughters to figure out, know, understand. And I can't, tiger-mom style, force that on them or on anyone.
"Thank you for not being a tiger mom," Anne-with-an-e said.
"Yeah, you're more of a Domestic Cat Mom," added Betsy.
I can live with that.
*Obviously, it's not quite as simple as that, and the article is worth a read.