After all, isn't it one of the measures of how successful we become?
Only the smartest people go to university. Only the smartest people become doctors, lawyers, engineers teachers. And with the exception of teachers, all of these professions make big salaries and can afford big lifestyles. That's what is important, right? That's what we should aspire to? Big salaries. Lots of money. Big houses and expensive cars. These are the measures of success, right?
And then I started to work with at-risk teenagers at my wonderful little alternative school. And I began to re-evaluate what success meant.
Because for these students success is measured in much smaller increments.
Success is coming to back to school after dropping out. It is returning after failing. It is battling your addictions. It is enrolling in school after your baby is born or you have given a baby up for adoption. Or after you have had an abortion because you know that you need to get your high school diploma and be able to afford to raise a child before giving birth to one.
Success is leaving the house even when your anxiety and depression are telling you not to. It is being able to reach out to your school staff to tell them that you are thinking about trying to kill yourself. Success is being the first person in your family to graduate high school. It is learning to take care of yourself instead of your alcoholic parent.
Success is coming to school day in and day out even though you have every reason in the world not to.
I work with amazing students: they are true survivors. They make me laugh. They make me want to cry. They frequently drive me crazy. But they make me take a breath and think about how to respond to their behaviours in a way that makes them feel listened too, respected, and lets them know that I am still the boss.
In case you were wondering, it's really not that easy. Well, it is now. But when I first started it was terrifying.
However, I've grown. And over time they have taught me as much as I have taught them. Really, the best lesson I have learned working with these students is to re-evaluate what success means.
Which was pretty important to be able to do when Phoenix was born. Because all I could see were the "She'll nevers" and the "She wont's".
"She'll never get married"...sob.
"She'll never make me a grandmother"...sob, sob.
"She'll never go to university"...dissolves in a puddle of tears.
And she might not do any of those things. But these things aren't important to me anymore as a measure of success.
So how do I measure success?
Success is when your daughter smiles just because you are holding her close.
Or her Father teaching her how to catch a ball.
Success is each new accomplishment, no matter how small.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that it isn't things which define me. It isn't how much money I have. It isn't how smart I am.
It is my relationships. I am defined by my relationships. This is how I measure success. By the love I give and share. By the good I do in the world. By giving of myself and receiving just as openly. This is success.