Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What is Success

A dictionary may define success as the opposite of failure. “We won the game!” So we were successful. Some people say that success is the journey not the destination. It is the preparing, the unknown quantities of the goal the thrill of the “chase” that defines a successful outcome because at the end of the journey, now the “chase” must be evaluated and new goals set to maintain the “thrill”. Still others would have us each define what success is personally on many levels as preparation to begin designing the steps toward a goal.

When I was a young girl I had lots of ideas about things to build and things to do. I’d think about them, figure them out and when I was ready I’d take my well thought out plans to my dad. I have to give him credit for not laughing out loud at some, even most of them. No, he listened completely to what I had to say then he sat in the way he had when he was thinking things over and what I remember most about him is that the next words out of his mouth were these; “Well, it seems to me you’ve got three choices.”

First he’d tell me again about the plan I’d just pitched to him, then he’d lay out possibly the opposite of my plan. Finally, he’d tell me of a plan maybe even very close to the one I’d just given him but this one I learned over time, was probably the plan he thought might have the best chance of being successful.

Now I want to tell you about how my dad listened. He looked right at me as I spoke and I’d feel as if he was taking my temperature and checking to see if I’d grown an inch or if my eyes were more hazel than brown. What I felt from him was that he listened to me with everything in him. He saw me he heard me he felt my excitement level and he watched my reasoning skills to see how well thought out my plans were.

He was taking my temperature – he was checking me to see if I liked myself in my picture of my plan. He was looking to see if I felt peaceful and had joy and enthusiasm (this was important to dad, enthusiasm). He was listening to see if I was planning a solo job or if I was going to ask others to help me and he listened to who they might be, checking what he knew about them and their capabilities and honor.

If this was a money-making plan, he listened to my budgeting skills with the keen sense of a spread-sheet aficionado even though this was a long way from “spread-sheet” days, his mind was keen and his ability to compute anything in his head was truly awe inspiring.

He was getting a feel for whether I was “up to the task”. Was I biting off more than I could chew? Was my energy level strong enough to carry me through?

I never felt judged for my worthiness or for the worthiness of the plan. I always knew inside that my father trusted me and loved me unconditionally. So his job was to check all the other things out because he knew that whatever I’d cook up to do would be legal and worthwhile (well at least mostly legal sometimes). We were pioneer farmers living a long way from the law of other people. Our own laws were most important and we lived or died by them.

So, with my idea pitched and my options in front of me I’d go about doing the deal. If the option I chose didn’t work out as I wanted it to, I’d go back to dad (my drawing board) and tell him what went wrong. Again, he’d listen in that x-ray vision way he had and then he’d usually say, “Well, it sounds to me like you’ve got two choices.”

My father died when I was twenty-seven. One day in my thirty-sixth year I overheard one of my step-daughters telling her youngest sister that I always gave her three choices. I had to leave the room to cry a little when I heard dad’s battle plan come from the second generation down. I had to ask him if he’d heard that too. I knew he was proud of the way my husband’s kids turned out (his grand-daughters), not ‘steps but a vital part of our family. He taught all four of them to fish just as he’d taken my brother and me fishing and my nephew and niece when their turns came around. I’m glad he had the chance to interact in their lives before he died.

So how has success been a factor in my adult life? There was a time in my late teens an early “twenties” when I measured success by getting paid the most I could for how I spent my work time. I took jobs that weren’t traditional female jobs and was well paid for them. I green broke and saddle broke horses for people around our area. I sold ads for the local newspaper in my senior year of high-school because I was on the annual staff and so I was going around the country begging for money for that anyway, might as well have the paper paying me too.
When I graduated I already had a job and an apartment in Seattle. I’d signed on to work building airplanes for Boeing. I was in wing sub-assembly for the 737 which was a paper airplane still in Wichita. So with no work in my department I begged work from my lead and made wooden storage units and key ring hangers. Then I “borrowed” a bicycle and an old blueprint and turned my restricted badge upside down under my collar and spent most afternoons riding all over plant II. When summer ended so did the job as Boeing was about to hang out the sign for the last person leaving Seattle to please turn out the lights, this was 1967.
I went to work as a station agent-train order operator/telegrapher for the Milwaukee railroad and worked for them for nearly ten years before they closed up shop and went back east only to then go out of business entirely. I loved working for the railroad. I got to work all the depots in Washington State and some in Idaho. It fit into what would become my “project-oriented” manner of working.

I started a computer consulting business in 1982 or 1983 because I’d come to realize that my skills were best suited on projects than working for one company until retirement. It worked for me.

Did I feel successful about my work life? Yes. I had no fear of walking in to a company, showing them a portfolio or my resume, talking about what I had done and could do and asking what they needed from me. That sense of having no fear of failure or fear of success came directly from my days on that farm. And the skills my dad taught me about thinking and feeling about things I wanted to undertake.

I’m struggling for the first time in my life with work. Questions have plagued my waking and sleeping time, I’ve questioned myself and wrestled in the mud with my fears so hard that I actually weakened myself enough to “catch” a chest cold. People told me that it was “going around” and everyone was getting it. Well “it” or another one like “it” has been going around every year and no matter how exhausted I’ve been, how overworked, I just don’t get “sick”. Then one morning about two weeks ago I had an accident. I burned my hand and fingers quite severely. It was a shock as accidents are and in two days I was sick with the “lung thing”.

I know from Chinese medicine and other areas of research that what affects us physically is directly associated with what we are feeling (or not feeling) in our life. Lungs are associated with a great deal of grief, sadness or loss.

I’ve been journaling and doing things I know to help myself get better. The things I have been experiencing in life over the last year and a half have resulting in grief, sadness and loss for me.
When my mother died six years ago I went into my “cave” and pretty much greeted the sun every morning and greeted the moon every evening. I walked, wrote, did research on a project I decided to work on and went through Mother’s things, sorting, giving away and keeping.

And I gypsy’d around two states looking for where I would settle down for the next part of my life. In several places and with several people I’d known for years I experienced more grief, sadness and loss as those relationships which had once been vital proved to not be viable any longer.

Now I’m embarking on a new way of doing what I’ve been doing. I’m excited about it and there is also shock and fear as like I’ve experienced with the recent friendship losses. As I write this I’ve been wishing my dad was here to run my well thought out ideas by just one more time.

Is it because I’m older now? That doesn’t seem right. I fell and dislocated my shoulder a year ago and that shook my confidence in my ability to stay upright. I lost my “ground”.
My brother died suddenly in a foreign country the first of this year. We were estranged when he died and I feel sad for the loss of his life and our inability to celebrate our lives together. Now I find myself the eldest person in my family. What’s that all about?

What do I know about this? I know I have been experiencing unmanaged grief, sadness, loss and a huge lack of Joy. I’ve allowed fear to overcome faith and lost confidence in the Universe to hold me up and sustain me as I walk forward. And I know that I’m really finished indulging this recent pity party for one.

I haven’t been spending enough time with people who sing and dance, play the drum and the flute, hug on one another and feel blessed to be in one another’s company. I need to get out and be in Joy!

As I’ve have been writing this article I have been going back to the farm and my youth with my father to ask the critical questions. Will I like myself doing what I’m embarking on doing? Am I truly at peace and free from fear, anger, worry and guilt around this area of work? Do I have the personal energy, the enthusiasm for this new way of working? Will the money from this new way of working be sufficient to continue to present more workshops? Will my relationships with the people I’m embarking on this journey with become richer and more viable for the “new” way of working? Will the net funds to be sufficient for me to use the money to enhance the lives of others as well as supply my basic needs?

These are the measures of success for me. I must do what I love and let the money follow, Maslow was right in his concept of “Self Actualization”. It is necessary to have other reasons to work after the basic needs are met. Joy must be at the beginning of and the end of each day of work for me or I won’t do it. I know me. Without enthusiasm and joy, there is not enough money to be had to work.

I’m so glad I got to share some of my father with you today. He was truly a cowboy/philosopher with a lot of rodeo clown thrown in. And, he was the most intelligent human I’ve met in this life. I’ve been invited to be part of the big-brain group and said. “No thanks.” I’ve worked in think tanks, brainstorming until my brain was unhinged. I’ve known many celebrated intelligent people and not one of them was in any way superior to my father. I really like that I’ve lived long enough to come to realize that we are all one – we all want the same things in life, we walk the same dirt, drink the same water and breathe the same air.

So, in my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on loan to me for a little while and in all the others’ who have and will transit through mine there will be a bit of all of us in every one of us.

Oh, and the answers to my success questions are all YES!