By Caitlin Kelly
I think there’s a comforting fantasy that being “successful” = easy.
As in, life suddenly smooths out into something calm, cool, stress-free.
Awesome! Sign me the hell up!
While in Tucson, I’ve gotten to know some of the Institute students, as well as some of the Times and Boston Globe staffers here working with them. In a long and personal conversation with one local student, a 21-year-old man who is already well-launched in journalism, he wondered why I still struggle.
Aren’t I successful?
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see “success” as a specific and final destination, and if it is, I wonder if that’s really the best way to look at it.
He asked me to define success. (No pressure!) My answer was very different from what it would have been in my 20s (career!), 30s (marriage!), 40s (finding a new partner/husband). As readers of this blog well know, I tend to be driven, ambitious and obsessive.
But success for me today looks quite different. It’s the hard-earned blend of a healthy retirement fund, a lovely second husband, good friends, health, a nice home and — oh, yeah — work! That order surprised me even as I wrote it, but the sub-conscious is a powerful little thing, isn’t it?
Maybe it’s being Canadian or being a Baby Boomer or having lived in five countries or being a journalist whose industry is “in disruption” — (fucking total chaos is more like it!) But I never expect life to be easy.
I wish it were easier, certainly. Struggle is wearying and distracting. Struggle without any visible, measurable progress is deeply dispiriting.
But just because something is difficult — your friendships, marriage, school, work, workouts — doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.
It doesn’t mean you’re not succeeding.
I suspect that most of us rarely publicly admit to struggle; it’s not sexy or slick and it can make us appear ill-prepared or incompetent or dis-organized.
I call bullshit.
Life is sometime just really damn hard. The more we’re willing to be, (optimistically, resourcefully), candid about this with one another, the easier it gets, because then people with wisdom can help (some of them) and our struggle diminishes.
Not everyone is kind or compassionate, of course. But the people who sneer at the notion of struggle, glibly insisting that their path to glory has been 100 percent smooth, are usually lying — or their path is short, flat and well-paved, if not well-funded by others.
One of the editors here said something to me at breakfast I found helpful and comforting. When I told her how many of us in this industry, certainly those over 40, are scrambling to “reinvent” ourselves, she suggested that this struggle, and it really is a struggle, is something attractive, not repellent.
Not if you’re about to lose your home and plunge into destitution, but having to figure stuff out, no matter if you’re 21 or 71, keeps us alive and attentive and connected and paying attention.
I generally enjoy the challenges of my work and life. I’m easily bored. I like to grow and acquire new skills. I like to test myself and see how many new things I can cram into my head.
As soon as I can easily clear one bar — (the high jump kind, not the alcoholic kind!) — I usually raise it by finding something new and tough to learn and potentially get better at. A life spent coasting, happily resting on one’s laurels, is just not very appealing to me.
(This might be something that runs in my family; my Dad turns 84 in a few weeks and plans to go sky-diving to celebrate.)
How about you?
Does struggle invigorate or annoy you?
NOTE: I leave today — computer-free! — for five days travel and into the Grand Canyon. So if your comments go unanswered until Friday, please don’t despair.
Jose may post a pre-written few things in my absence, or offer a guest blog of his own.