Over spring break, I took a road trip to Arizona to visit two of my closest friends. While I was there, I went on a hike to watch the sunrise over Phoenix. If you know me at all, you know that I am NOT a morning person. Normally, you couldn't catch me anywhere but my bed before 9am. But, there was a desire to experience something new brewing in my chest, and the peace associated with early mornings and driving alone captured my curiosity. One of my regulars at my work had also recommended this hike, specifically at sunrise to me, so I felt obligated to experience it. He knew how magical it was and wanted me to know too. So, at 4:15am, I crawled out of bed and drove in the pitch black darkness towards Camelback Mountain.
The trail confused me, and I ended up leaving the trail at one point, thinking I was going the correct direction. Trying to play it cool, I watched everyone continue upwards, and followed in their path after a quick break. As the day began to break through, I made it to the top.
Upon a rock, overlooking all of Phoenix, I felt incredibly peaceful. Connecting with nature is such a vital part of the human condition, and I believe is much needed for everyone, at least on a semi regular basis.
I began to think about how I made it to the top, and felt proud of myself. I successfully woke up at 4:15am, made it to my destination before sunrise, and reached the top of the mountain as the sun rose, despite the challenges that the hike itself presented. The slippery rocks, the steep incline, and finding myself lost at one point. I proclaimed that this hike was a success.
While taking in the sunrise, and absorbing all of the sounds of life around me, I began to think about success itself. "Success" is defined as "an accomplishment of an aim or purpose" (Oxford). I thought long and hard about this. I always believed that success was defined by the degree that you earned, the money that you made, the profession that you had. I thought that having a career and a happy, healthy relationship or marriage were factors that determined how successful someone is. These checks-in-a-box accomplishments are definitely successes, but I realized on top of Camelback Mountain that success entails so much more than the materialistic and superficial world we live in offers.
Essentially, with this definition of success in mind, any goal achieved is a success. This sounds rather obvious, but let's dig deeper into it. Success, and ultimately the sensation of pride associated with it, resonates different with every unique individual. The standards and goals that we set for ourselves are not the same as others, therefore we should not hold people to the same standards of success that we hold ourselves to. If one sets out a goal to get their degree, and they earn it, then they have achieved their goal and reached something that is defined as successful to them. But someone else could set the goal to simply do the dishes today, and once they do, feel successful. Success is so many things to different people. For example, last year I took a semester off of school to focus on my mental health ("You meet all the requirements for seasonal depression, but I think you're depressed depressed right now, in fact 'moderate to severe' is your diagnosis" - my therapist). My goal was to get to a place where I wasn't depressed, and accumulate the skills to take care of myself when I felt that darkness creeping in again. At this same time, a friend of mine was extremely focused on his education. He said that I would never go back to school, and that I was "such a loser" for not taking my education seriously. He defined success by a degree, while I defined success as being able to healthily take care of myself. Neither one of these concepts are wrong in any way, but it wasn't fair of him to reflect his own standards onto me. Fast forward to now, he's closer to a degree than I am, but I am also not depressed ("You scored low or none on the depression rating! This is so great, aren't you proud of yourself and the work you put it?!" - my therapist) and know exactly what I need to do when I notice the signs myself again.
Success means different things for everyone, and should not be defined by the name brands that you wear, how big the house you own is, or by having children by a certain age. Personally, I don't believe success is defined by the career you have or the degree you've earned, but that doesn't mean I don't beam with pride when my friends meet their goals and receive the degree they've worked hard for (and paid for). I feel as though success is defined by the kind of life that you live. This does not include the materialistic things you acquire. In my life I'd like to have a healthy marriage, find myself fulfilled in my career, and depending on the state of the world, have children. But I also want to find my success in how others feel around me. Rather than "What do people think of me?" I would rather ask myself "How do people feel around me?" Although my people-pleasing attributes influence this, more than that I feel like the way others feel around you, and the way you treat others, is reflected by how you feel about yourself, and how you treat yourself. It doesn't matter what career I choose, or what degree I attain, because those do not define me. What does define me is the impact that I can make with those tools, and how they can benefit myself and everyone around me. I would argue that a healthy relationship or marriage is reflected by this idea as well. And as we all grow older and wiser, the goals to be accomplished to reach success change for everyone during different eras in their lives. The goals of someone in their 20s are much different than the goals of people in their 50s.
With all of this being said, I hope that we can bask in the triumph of achieved goals, ours and others, even if their ideas of success are different than our own. Ultimately, YOU decide what success is to you, and I support everyone in their journey towards triumph, no matter how different it may be from my own.