defining success

A few weeks ago, my life coach assigned me the task of defining what success means to me. Awesome homework, right? Designing an Ellie-shaped blueprint for my life?

It's an incredibly rewarding exercise, and I highly recommend it. It was like building an attic in the back of my mind, and filling it with ideas that are too huge to keep up front. But I want them within reach, to visit from time to time, to ground and help keep me focused.

I'm not really sure what my coach had in mind - if she was thinking I'd just write a sentence or two, something simple and clear. But there are different kinds of success, and I think it's sort of awful that I never think about any of them. They run parallel tracks, but through such differing landscapes. I think it's worth pulling back and looking at all of it through a bigger lens. Here's what I came up with:

Emotional Success

Being able to walk down the street without a furrowed brow. Being relaxed enough, my head clear enough, that I can handle - even enjoy - whatever unfolds in front of me. I don't know that I'll ever be the kind of person to meet challenges head on; at least, not the first time they rear up at me. Success for me would be more like, well, not hiding in the closet from them. For weeks on end. While I play Words with Friends.

Putting the demons of my past to bed. Forgiving everyone I still feel "wronged" me. Finding and truly feeling compassion for their experience of my relationships with them. Not needing as much external validation. Being an expert self-soother.

Professional Success

This is tricky. And still murky. I'm not on a clear enough path to know exactly what this looks like, in the way that some professionals have specific benchmarks to reach within their field. But I can still identify at least one goalpost: Having a job that either is secure enough in its own right - ideally, thanks to the value I bring to the position - or from which I've learned enough that in leaving, I'm, if not guaranteed, at least likely to find work elsewhere.

Bottom line: being experienced, skilled, and established enough that both my present and professional future are bright.

Financial Success

It's mortifying to admit, because it reveals both my irresponsibility and my privilege in one fell swoop - but I've never had specific financial goals, with dollar signs attached to them. It's high time I did that. I don't want to obsess or stress over money, if I can avoid it. Success to me is being organized with my finances, and more clearly aware of spending. Also, just plain earning money again. This way, when I do choose to indulge, to buy myself something, go to a concert or travel, I can do so without worry - or guilt.

Creative Success

Happy thought: I already feel creatively successful. Creative success, to me, doesn't have any specific parameters, like, say, publish a novel. I get such tremendous joy from the act of creation, whether it's verbal or visual, that I feel like the daily journey itself is success. If along the way, I pick up objectively appreciable accolades or financial compensation, then great. But those aren't my primary objectives. Continuing to create consistently, for my own personal happiness - that's success.

Relationship Success

Loving more simply and wholly than the last time I loved. Continuing to move closer to what's truly important: mutual respect, affection, warmth, consideration. Avoiding my usual mistakes and misgivings; banishing ego, jealousy, insecurity. Having a partner who shares my values, not just my interests. Having honed the skills of compromise and forgiveness.

Personal Success

Immediate goal: Acquiring the skill of making myself do the thing I don't want to do, when it needs to be done. Overcoming a life-long habit of procrastination.

Intermediate goal: Replacing more superficial sources of validation with ones that will endure.

Ultimate goal: Expanding my joy beyond myself, and reaching out. Having emotional "riches" enough that I can afford to "spend" more of my energy on others, be they loved ones or strangers. Establishing a legacy amongst the people I touch throughout my life, so that when I die, I'm remembered with fondness and respect.