When we think about what people say they want out of life, there are words that repeat themselves. These words have a way of defining our life trajectories, sometimes without our mindful intent. Language is incredibly important in shaping our attitudes, values and beliefs (who said we’d never use discourse in real life?), and the constant repetition of certain words and phrases is a powerful contributor to our understanding of what it means to live a successful life.
Our plan looks different to a perfect cookie cutter successful life. It will probably look more like the biscuits mum made, rolled by hand and smooshed down with a fork so that they’re delicious and squishy in the middle and cracked and crunchy on the outside. Working part time means that we won’t be rich, we won’t have a big house that we own by age 30, we won’t reach the pinnacle of our career potential and we will always have to think before we buy something to ensure it aligns with our priorities. However, I feel that’s not too much to give up considering what we gain. In light of this, I wanted to explore what success means, the words we associate with success, and the alternatives that Alex and I want to pursue in our quest to squeeze as much as possible out of our lives together.
Success (noun): The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
I think it is reasonable to say that everyone wants to be successful. As much as success can be defined on an individual level (technically it could be any aim or purpose) the word holds a particular meaning in society. We can see this by how the definition of success varies between cultures. Where the West tends to define success in terms of wealth and power, the East values the achievement of harmony and enlightenment.
The widely understood definition of success focusses on on how your achievements are valuable to others. While not a completely negative view, this means that using the word success to define our goals in life without further analysis can be problematic. It is why we see many people who are ‘successful’ completely overhaul their lives. We hear stories of people who leave successful careers to pursue their creative passion, or leave a life of high society to live the simple life in the country. The moral of these stories is usually that success does not equal happiness.
Happy (adjective): Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment
It is incredibly popular say that the goal in life is to be happy. I, for one, am a happiness junkie, and tend to fall into the trap of thinking that more happiness is better. The reality is that life is full of meaningful, rich emotions. If Inside Out taught us anything, it is that sadness is a really, really important part of life, and pushing it away doesn’t make life better, but rather, prevents you from exploring really important life experiences. The broad spectrum of human emotion is a huge gift, and one which I don’t think we truly appreciate. I watched a brilliant TedTalk this morning on the importance of regret and why aiming to live life without regret is a huge problem, and what we have to gain in really feeling these kinds of negative emotions.
Feeling happy feels good, but it is a simple emotion. It sits inside you like warm yellow sunshine. But it’s not joy, bubbling up like champagne trying to spill out of a bottle, or hilarity, bouncing around like 1000 brightly coloured bouncy balls released from a height. Happiness isn’t acceptance, that sinks into the ground like a week of soaking rain, and it can’t wrap around a painful break like sadness does. Happiness is not necessarily the ‘best’ of the emotions, even if it is the emotional equivalent of gold glitter.
Instead- Emotion (adjective): A strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.
We want to be able to deeply experience the tapestry of emotions life offers. I’m slowly opening my eyes to the idea that all emotions are there for important reasons. Riding their waves, rather than stomping them down, is a far more positive way to experience my life. Working part-time gives us more time to process the emotions that we experience. How many times have I pushed an emotion down thinking ‘I don’t have time for this right now’? I want to be able to sit with a melancholy mood and look over old photographs- then call my brother to say that I miss him. I want to be able to go running at 10am to let out my frustration, returning all cried out and ready to tackle new challenges. I want to let my anger fuel letters to my local politician and campaign for real change in our world. I believe in the power of my emotions to carry my life forward in meaningful ways, and I want to grant myself the time to experience that.
Accomplished (adjective): Highly trained or skilled in a particular activity.
We tend to look upon others’ lives through a lens of their accomplishments. J. K. Rowling is a celebrated author, Professor Ian Frazer created the cervical cancer vaccine, Sarah down the road is really good at playing the piano. The significant thing about being accomplished is that to ‘matter‘ the activity needs to be a) recognisable, b) socially well regarded, and c) you need to attain a certain skill level greater than the average person.
Being an accomplished person brings to mind an 1800s noble lady who can make polite conversation in English, French and Latin, dance with grace, and knows how to accept a gift of flowers from an admiring gentleman. Today’s idea of being accomplished is different, but in no way less excessive. To be considered simply a functioning human we’re expected to have a certain level of education, to hold a full time job, to socialise with a large enough group of friends and to have certain hobbies that don’t include binging on Netflix. These do not classify you as accomplished, despite the fact that people all over the world live their version of a successful life, are happy, and feel successful with far less.
Accomplishment occurs when you achieve MORE than what is deemed appropriate for the average human. Usually, you become accomplished either by an abundance of natural talent (which generally doesn’t translate into improved quality of life, because that’s just who you are) or, a very large amount of blood, sweat and tears. The second is more likely to bring you positive QoL increases, however accomplishment for the sake of accomplishment will just leave you drained and soggy. The goal of accomplishment may bring you prosperity, but without meaning, what’s the point?
Instead- Adventurous (adjective): Willing to take risks or to try out new methods, ideas, or experiences.
There are so many amazing things in this world and I am so excited to give a lot of them a try. We love to travel, and we have so many places that we want to go. Working part time gives us more opportunities to jump in the car for a road trip where we can wake up in our swag next to bandicoots and wallabies. It gives us the flexibility to spend less of our time on one thing (work) and more time in different environments that offer new experiences.
In my life I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not necessarily good at, but enjoy. I’ve run (slow) marathons, started learning French, lovingly sewed wonky baby blankets and cooked simple, yummy meals that we’ve enjoyed together at our little kitchen table. The experience of the new and the different offer something that dedication to mastery cannot. This is not to say that we shouldn’t dedicate ourselves to something that we love, but rather that we do have a choice and for us the lure of an adventure is far greater than the idea that for something to be worthwhile you have to be good at it.
Prosperous (adjective): The state of being successful in material terms; flourishing financially.
This one’s the kicker. When I think of the word prosperous, I think of an ideal situation. For me that’s loads of greenery, a quiet environment, a few little luxuries and time to spend doing the things I love, with the people I love. But that’s not what being prosperous means. In reality, having the money to purchase what we want, very rarely translates into actually getting what we truely want. This is because human beings are very bad at actually knowing what we want and what will make us happy. Wealthy people tend to have more luxuries, but take less time to enjoy them. After the point of being financially sound, having more money does not translate into an improved life. Therefore, the idea of prosperity, is rather the false hope that having more money will change things. Your last raise probably didn’t make you happier, so why do you expect your next one to?
Romantic (adjective): Conducive to or characterized by the expression of love.
No matter what we do, I always want to do it with an expression of love. Not just in our relationship with each other, but with our friends, with our family, with how we use our natural resources, and how we care for our home and future. Romanticism gets a bad wrap as gifts of flowers and chocolates, but just like self-care doesn’t just mean bubble baths and wine, romance has wider scope.
To us, romance means having fewer luxuries so that we can work less and spend more time with each other. It means checking in on a sick friend, sometimes just showing up to drop off a care package. It means composting so that we can reduce our personal contribution to landfill so that the world is healthier for a future little one. There are so many little ways that we express love for each other, for ourselves, for our friends and family, and for the world. Personally, this love is not best served at work, and so I want more non-work time to dedicate to romanticism.
Working part time flies in the face of conventional success. It will leave us with less money and more challenges in career progression. However, what it does do is provide us with opportunities to be present, to experience emotion fully, to live meaningfully and to act with love. That’s the kind of life we want to live.