“When my husband was dying, I said: ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.’”
On my way home from the first day of school, I was listening to Alain De Botton’s podcast entitled “Status Anxiety.” He explained how our culture has been obsessed with notions of success that may be normal and even admired by many but not aligned with who we really are and how we view life as individuals.
I was struck by his argument that if we consider a man with a nice home, a beautiful wife, a high-paying job, and an ability to pay for a luxurious vacations our poster boy for success, then how do we see the man living in the shanties, perhaps making a living from selling scraps of garbage?
He says that of course there is nothing wrong with this poster or model of success. Moreover, he says that all of us want the good things in life and we live in a society where we are constantly pushed to follow our dreams.
But I guess the reminder that he was giving to the audience was to re-evaluate whether the standards of success that we subject ourselves to are truly our own standards and not those that we ascribe to just because everybody said so.
And if I may connect that to the past posts of Zen Pencils here on Tumblr and to the “baptism of fire” that I’ve come to accept as a necessary part of being an immigrant and being uprooted from the place where I was “forged, rooted, and held” for all my life, I’ve never been more convinced of the importance of thinking for one’s self than I am today. As a people-pleaser, I am very scared to be preachy but then I realized that if I believe in this so much, then I have to find a way to stand by this new nugget of truth. Perhaps this is why I am writing this all down today.
In the short time that I’ve been here in Canada, I learned that to think for one’s self is to become one’s own person. It means trying to find your voice in a world where it’s just so hard to hear anything but clashing and imitated voices. To think for one’s self means acknowledging that you can be wrong but sometimes, you can be right too. It means giving yourself the permission to imagine immensities and the power to act on it. It means struggling to get on your own two feet so that one day, perhaps you can help others get on theirs too.
So as a response to Alain de Botton’s compelling talk about re-evaluating our notions of success and in the spirit of thinking for one’s self, I leave in this tiny nook in cyberspace my ten definitions of a “successful” life:
1. Loving others as the highest goal
2. Standing up for what is right and good
3. Refusing to do what is simply easy and comfortable
4. Being brave enough to face my fears and to be honest about my flaws
5. Leaving my tiny space in the world a little bit better than when I first found it
6. Running the extra mile for causes I am most passionate about
7. Running the race (marathon, duathlon, triathlon and beyond) for people life was kind enough to bestow upon me as friends
8. Heck, running the race for every person who needs it because everyone is someone’s family member, everyone is someone’s most important person
9. Rejecting an attitude of passive acceptance and at the same time, rejecting the longing to be accepted all the time (because I never will be)
10. Recognizing that there will be many times that I will fail in numbers 1 - 9 but should I fail again and again, I should never stop trying.
With these standards, I suddenly feel like I’m setting myself up for disappointment. But somebody once told me that the beauty of life is often found somewhere around our struggles and what is most important is that we keep on trying. I really believe in that Somebody. :)
A young boy holds the national flag at celebrations to mark the independence of Jamaica, August 6, 1962.