In a women’s group that I attend, our facilitator asked us to write down one word that represented each individual in the group. One of the women wrote that I was “together.” My immediate reaction was, “What? Who me?” I can assure you that this morning, when I was awake until 3AM worrying about things going on in my life (most of which I have absolutely no control over), I was certainly not feeling “together.” How often does someone else arrive at a conclusion about our value, competence, or kindness when we feel that we are anything but that? What do they see that we seem to miss about ourselves?
Often, we look around and judge ourselves in comparison to what we see others doing. Other people seem so “together,” smart, accomplished, confident, or funny when we feel out of control, silly, insecure, or boring. But as someone wisely remarked, we frequently judge our inside by comparing it to someone else’s outside.
Many years ago our daughter and I participated in a mother-daughter philanthropic organization. One of the women appeared to be living a wonderful life – she, her husband, and her two daughters lived in a beautiful home in the wealthiest part of town, she drove an expensive car, her children attended private school. In fact, it turned out that she was accused of embezzling money from a nonprofit group and had to pack up and leave town abruptly. Her “inside” was certainly not the perfect family life that I saw on the “outside.”
The only measure of our success really comes from within – and it is different for each of us. What is really important to you? Is it contribution to your field? Relationships? Accomplishing a particular goal? Taking the time to determine what your own values are and what would make your life feel successful is an important part of achieving that success. As Yogi Berra once said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”
There are many ways of finding “where you’re going.” Visualizing your future is often a powerful method. Imagine that it’s now 10 years later. Someone is giving a speech about you. What would you want him or her to say about you? Or picture yourself sitting on a porch after retirement. In the distance, you see a line of people coming toward you to tell you the impact you have had on their life. What would they be telling you?
Another, simpler, way is to ask those people who are important in your life. What do they think are your greatest strengths, accomplishments, and impact in their life and in the world?
By putting all of this information together, we can see what we have accomplished and where we want to focus during the next phase of our life. That direction may not be the same as for the next person, but if it reflects who we are and what we feel is important, it will set us on the path toward the most fulfilling life possible. Not someone else’s path. Ours. And that’s really the only path that matters.