If you feel like you have failed at something, there is a good chance that you have not failed, but rather that you were defining success in the wrong way.
For a long time, too long, I felt like a failure. We are taught from a young age that money and material things define success. Successful people own homes and cars, they take vacations and go out for fancy dinners. In our society, successful people can afford to do the things they want to do, when they want. A prolific artist that struggles to earn a living is not considered successful. A singer who does not have a record deal so must work at Starbucks to pay her bills is not considered successful. And a mother who has raised three amazing, independent women; written 11 published books; conceptualized, launched, and ran a national magazine; all while running a household and nurturing a happy marriage also does not consider herself successful because the dollars have not rained down.
The last one is me. Because the measure of success was always the size of my paycheque, I have felt a perpetual failure. Shortly after my husband and I met our annual salaries were within $10,000 a year of each other. He earned the higher wage, but is six years older than me, worked in tech, and had risen to management level. Whereas I worked in office administration and was just starting to climb the ladder, so the difference was expected. However, within five years his salary had increased by 60% through a job change, but I was earning less. I had left the workforce to have a baby and the company I was working for went out of business while I was on maternity leave. When I started to look at returning to the workforce full-time it simply was not feasible. I had a newborn (mat leave was only six months back then) a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old. If I earned the same wage I was before getting pregnant daycare costs would have eaten up more than half my wage and I would not be with my kids. So I began a years long journey of trying to bring extra income into the household while also being available for my three daughters.
Most my endeavours revolved around self-employment. I did medical-legal transcription(self-taught) from home for a couple of years. Then I responded to an RFP and won the opportunity to operate an administrative services company from a new city building. I ran this business for several years, but never earned a lot for myself as I had to pay my one staff member and I was continually putting money back into the company. So I folded the company and enrolled in college to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a professional writer. I attended college full-time with one daughter in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school and managed to graduate with honors. But the higher paying jobs and opportunities did not follow.
I freelance for a US company that produces non-fiction school reference books, but the work is irregular and does not pay well, so I needed something else. So I launched a national magazine – with no money I might add! I broke even with my first issue and the magazine was published for six years. However, once again I did not earn a living from it, I was working simply to pay other people, so in 2018 I folded the publication, feeling the failure again.
My working life began in restaurants. I was hired as a ‘busgirl’ at age of 14. I left home at 17 and spent the next eight years in the restaurant industry, holding every front of house position there is. I was a general manager of a fine-dining restaurant by the time I was 22; the ages of the people I supervised ranged from 15 to 50. From there I moved into office administration, where again I have held all the key positions from receptionist to executive assistant. When frustrated by my efforts to find a job working for someone else, I didn’t give up, I started my own businesses. In between, I worked in retail and wrote books. Not to mention the fact that I am also a mom, and I have volunteered in various capacities over the years. And yet, I still felt like a failure.
Raising kids in greater Vancouver is expensive. We went for a long stretch of time when we were stealing from Peter to pay Paul. My husband and I did not socialize because we never had extra money to do anything. We would save up Air Miles to get ourselves one night a year in a hotel room – this was our only break from our kids. My husband did not get dental work he needed, and I gave up haircuts. Anything to save a buck. And through it all I blamed myself because I did not earn more money. Even while running my own businesses and writing books I continued to look for a “good job.” But my years of self-employment did not impress potential employers and interviews were few and far between. More failure. The struggle has been real.
A couple of years ago, after another job rejection, I realized that I needed to change my internal narrative. Intellectually, I knew I was wrong and using the wrong metric to measure my success. I know that many looking in from the outside would view me a success. In many ways, money brings freedom. I believe we pursue this freedom more than money. So, with that enlightenment in hand, I decided that I was going to focus on seeking freedom without monetary strings. I stopped applying for jobs. I was done spending hours trying to sell or prove myself to strangers. Done with feeling misunderstood, undervalued, and under-appreciated. I was tired of trying to fit into a box that I am not sure I ever really wanted to fit into anyway.
I redefined success for myself. It is not about how much money I earn. It is not about how many things I own, or how expensive the wine I drink is. I decided I am successful if I have achieved goals I set for myself, if I am content, and if I get to spend my time doing the things I enjoy.
I wrote and published the first version of this blog in June 2019. Almost two years ago. At the end I proclaimed that I was going to start a Racquelvolution. I committed to making my own basket and filling it up with the things that make me feel good and whole: painting, writing, knitting, reusing old things for new purposes, and of course, writing.
When I decided to revisit the blog and write a revised version, I had no idea it had been two years since I wrote the first. So much has changed. I have lost more than I could ever have imagined over those two years. My confidence has been rocked to the core, and I have been left to feel like a failure once again. But writing this post has been therapeutic because it helped me understand that I am living in a strange dichotomy right now. On a work, creative, and internal contentment level, I am in a better place than I have ever been in my life. The commitment I made two years ago to redefining success and finding joy in my life worked. But as I found myself, and became more content, the turmoil with my mother and daughters erupted. It is as if as soon as I stopped striving to fit into a predefined mold of who I thought I should be, and started to be my authentic self, they started criticizing me more, lashing out at me, and accusing me of being uncaring, unloving, and selfish. It almost feels like there is a direct connection between me pursuing my own happiness and them wanting to knock me down.
Sadly, this means I am now battling a whole new feeling of failure. That I have failed as a mother. But this is another area where I must learn to redefine success. My success or failure as mother is not determined by how my daughters treat me, but rather by the kind of people I raised. And we raised three fine young women. They are fine women because of us and their upbringing, not despite us. So, I remind myself of this and continue to try and focus on my own success and contentment. I can only hope that each of them learns to define success in their own way and find it at a younger age than I did.
For you readers, I hope you consider this in the context of your own life. If you feel like you have failed at something, there is a good chance that you have not failed, but rather that you were defining success in the wrong way. Women are particularly guilty of this. We spread ourselves so thin and run ourselves so ragged that we do not feel like we are doing anything well. But the truth is you and I are remarkable. We accomplish amazing things every single day. And even if you don’t, good for you for getting out of bed and facing the day! So stop beating up on yourself and acknowledge and celebrate all your successes. Every time you do, you will feel better about yourself, and that energy will build on itself to create a more content life for you. It will also help you survive the unexpected bumps. So I encourage to join my revolution and redefine success for yourself – it is after all a personal thing!