Through high school my version of success was embarrassingly simple. I had a vague image picked out from any number of bad movies of a girl returning to her home town for Christmas or some family reunion, dressed in a suit. It was that simple. Success was wearing a well-cut suit. I extrapolated out from there and figured jobs requiring suits required good marks at school and getting into university. From there I figured a suited job would await and success would be a wrap. A suited job did await but success was not alongside.
I can’t recall whether I was in a doctor’s waiting room or the non-descript reception of a legal office but either is possible. Whichever waiting room it was, it was the place where I finally twigged. It dawned on me that my suited job did not feel anything like success. I felt ripped off.
For so long I had chased one version of success – oblivious to any other adaptation – which came to equate my personal worth with external acknowledgements like being awarded a good mark or landing a job at a reputable law firm or wearing a suit to work. It helped through university but out in the wide world I could suddenly see its failings.
I realised that outside the confines of school there was no teacher and no one was awarding me marks. I was on my own. In that moment the expression shifting paradigms finally made sense. I realised success was however I chose to define it. And it was far more complex than my girl-in-a-well-cut-suit version. That version suddenly felt terribly misguided and naive.
As terrifying as this discovery seemed, it also felt exhilarating. To wrest myself from the imaginary grip of report cards. I was momentarily cross at my school and at the movies for failing to broaden my definition of success from achievement – academic or suit-wearing – but I let it go as I had more pressing matters at hand. For example, what the hell kind of life did I want??? As opposed to what kind of life did I think I’d get good marks for.
As a solicitor I spent every many a waking minute wondering exactly what it was that made me feel so uncomfortable in my job. I worked with some exceptionally difficult characters who certainly contributed but I also worked with some exceptionally wonderful people who evened things out. Eventually – in that same waiting room – I realised I was miserable because I was living a life that didn’t fit me. I felt like I was having an affair. Like I was betraying my work colleagues because in my head and heart I wanted a different life. In the office I looked around and as much as I tried I couldn’t see lives I wanted to emulate.