This week, over at Humans of New York (my favorite website), I read several stories that made me pause.
A man talks about being a single parent to a teenager and his observation that women often retain custody of kids in situations of divorce. He says, "The courts are set up against men. They almost always determine that women should raise kids and men should pay child support. I don’t understand it. There’s a big push to see women as equal workers. Why can’t men be equal parents?”
I thought a lot about that comment this week and appreciate his perspective. I think fathers are sometimes undervalued in our society, particularly in their roles within the home vs. what they have to offer outside of it. But that's a post for another day.
The quote that has got me thinking nonstop is from a woman who worked her way up in the banking world, as a single parent needing to pay the bills and eventually as CEO. When several of her family members and best friend died, all in one year, she thought: what now? She decided to go back to school and change gears, and she'll be working on the issue of homelessness when she returns home from school.
She says, "It feels like I’ve moved from success to significance.”
How interesting, though-provoking and powerful is that?
From success to significance.
I've thought a lot about this sentence the past few days. I've wondered if they can't be the same thing, if a job that feels significant, meaningful and impactful can't also be deemed successful.
And then I began wondering about the definition of success in general - how society defines it but more to the point, how we each individually define it.
When I was younger, after I returned from living overseas, I promised myself I wouldn't get caught up in the 'trappings of financial success' and mindlessly spend money, shop for items that were 'common' or live a life based on keeping up with the Jones's.
Bless my heart.
Without even being aware of it, I've done each of those things, in some form. I've mindlessly shopped due to boredom and apathy and frustration. I've conformed to the American standard of beauty, as much as I can. I bought a new car, even when my old car was fine, because I lived in a place where everyone had gigantic SUVs and I didn't want to be the one mom who couldn't shuttle a handful of kids and bags of sports equipment to baseball practice and soccer games.
I've signed my kids up for travel sports teams and agreed to extensive ballet lessons so that they aren't the kids left out of high-end extracurricular activities.
I could go on.
But this quote, which has been rolling around my head and making me stop in my daily chores and pause, requires me to ask of myself: what is significant success? What could I do that would be so significant that it would be, by natural extension, successful?
Because success without meaning isn't really success after all (which one begins to understand once one has Pottery Barn furniture and is still bored and lonely, even when her cushions are made of Belgian linen).
This all reminds me of the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh:
As I get older, living my life deeply and focusing on significance rather than material success seems important to me. I think this a normal part of getting older, and my forties seem like to the starting point of this. I certainly don't feel like I have any answers (at all), but the question is there, and that's the start.
Is anyone else feeling this way?
I've been really inspired lately by friends who are starting new projects, careers and lives as our kids get older and we have time to come up for a breath, look around and ask: what next?