Sunday, May 5, 2013

Thoughts about success

I’ll start with a couple of questions.

When you wake up in the morning, are you excited about your day?  Are you looking forward to the different tasks and jobs that lie ahead?  If yes - I would say you are successful.  It doesn’t matter what your career path is or even if you have a career in the traditional sense of the word.

For me, percent wise, it’s about 70/30.  Most of the time, I feel successful – and satisfied with how my life is going.  I like my job.  I love my family.  I have the time to "smell the roses" and to daydream.  But every so often, doubt creeps in and I start thinking “If only….”
If only I stayed home with my kids, we would go to museums every week.
If only I was a stay-at-home wife and mom, our life would be more organized and less hectic
If only I put more effort into my work, I could be in a tenure-track position…
If only I was more pro-active and aggressive, I could enjoy a better-paying job in industry
If only I had a teaching job, I could have all summer off to spend as I wish.
If only I could take my kids hiking, camping, biking more often.

While  I don’t regret any choices I've made, I am at a point in my life when I begin to question (as I do every six months or so, it’s called a semi-annual identity crisis) – today, right now, am I in the right place?  Am I successful?  Perhaps, I should step it up a notch at work – change jobs even, to be in a place that is more driven and more intense.  Or, do the opposite: quit my job altogether to stay home, make amazing food and do awesome science and art projects with the kids.

My definition of success has very much evolved over the last 15 years.  When I was starting out, things seemed very simple: success meant having my own group and pursuing the scientific questions of my choosing.  Family was not a part of that equation.  Children were but a fuzzy may-be-someday concept.  That was before I went through the grind of the graduate school, before marriage, before an unexpectedly strong drive to produce offspring.  Fast-forward to 2013...  My most successful day last week was Wednesday, when I was able to finish my work in record short time and picked up the kids early at the daycare, spent an hour with them at the library sifting through the books, and then cooked a nice supper (the kids helped cut up cucumbers and tofu for the salad).  I am content to be a peg in someone else’s lab, content to pursue a direction someone else points to, and thrilled to let someone else to do the grant-hunting. 

I don’t know what another 10 or 15 years will do to my ideas about success.  Perhaps, I’ll read this entry, shrug my shoulders, and click “delete”.

What does “success” mean to you?  How has it changed over time?


  1. Ah - if wishes were horses, right? I agree that my definition of success has changed much over time. I always thought I wanted to be a highly paid career woman. Instead I find myself a homeschooling mom to 4 and pretty glad of it. But I think I'm happy if I set a few goals for myself and work toward them, however slowly. If I have no goals, then I start to feel antsy and dissatisfied.

    I think you could think about some of the things you posted above and decide whether they were really priorities. If so, then make a plan to get there! There's no reason you can't go to museums more often (if not every week) or be more organized, or whatever.

    I think the hard part, at least for me, is figuring out what you *really* want, not just what would be nice to have. KWIM? Once you do that, the path often becomes clear and you find the motivation to get there.

    Thanks for the question - it's a good one to ask.

  2. Thanks, Sarah! I like the idea of setting and working towards goals. Goals provide structure and make life feel a little less hectic :) And I know exactly what you mean about trying to figure out what we REALLY want in life!