Defining your own success

There’s an annoying thing you might notice, if you ever watch Mark Hamill being interviewed. (What do you mean you’re unlikely to ever watch Mark Hamill being interviewed?! You should do it for me, ok? ?)

I’d say it happens about 50% of the time. The interviewer, or perhaps an audience member, will ask a very particular question, that goes roughly along the lines of, ‘don’t you wish you’d been more successful?’. It changes format, of course; some people reference other actors as a comparison point, some suggest he was typecast as Luke. But all of them, every single one, make one very basic assumption: that there is only one type of success.

In this example success is defined as to be Harrison Ford. To be the face of not one, but several successful movie franchises, and to have had an endless series of high profile roles. 

Never mind that Hamill is a multi-millionaire, with three adult children he’s close to, a very happy 40 year marriage, who has worked continuously in the fields he adores. Those things do not count. They don’t fit within the approved definition of success.

Definitions of success is a concept that’s quite familiar to us in the world of online creatives. She Percolates make a weekly podcast out of it; there are books and blog posts analysing it in brilliant depth. & it’s no real coincidence, I don’t think, that we’re the generation to do so – we are the subsect of industry who said ‘if you wont change your patriarchal, impractical, outdated and unequal system, then we’ll go and make our own.’ So now we have women working from home, women working from their phones at the park while the kids play, women creating businesses where connection, community and creativity reign. (Three things, incidentally, that technology cannot yet accurately replicate.)

I know of dozens of women whose partner has quit their jobs to support them in their business. To look after the kids more, to keep the books, to help them manage the work load. Fifteen years ago this was a rarity, because as women – and particularly as women having children – our entrepreneurial opportunities were so greatly reduced. 

And so, in a system governed mainly by men making all of the money, the measure of success remained the same: making all of the money. More money = more success. Less money = failure.

It fascinates me how easily we believe in this. Oh sure, money is pretty wonderful and makes all kinds of thing easier, but it isn’t success. You can be a failure at life, and still rolling in cash. You can be a lauded once-in-a-generation talent and still desperately poor.
But most of all, what are we working for if it’s just to hoard cash? What about joy, what about passion, what about that feeling you get when you create something wonderful? What about family, about more hours in bed, about sitting down every day to do work that enriches your life?

Why don’t we judge these things as success? Who decided they mattered less than the zeroes in our bank accounts? And most importantly, why do we listen to them?

Today was my Husband’s last day as a Deputy Head in a Special School. He is now a full time member of team Me & Orla – because that is what I’ve been working for. Success for me is having more time as a family, the luxury of Orla being able to spend every afternoon with her Daddy, the ability to craft a business and a routine that works around my weird body quirks and mental rhythm. 

If I measured our success financially, we’d never have made this change. R was on a pretty decent salary – we’re essentially taking a big pay cut for him to come and work with me. And I’ve always said, if it doesn’t work – financially, temperamentally, logistically – then we will reassess and make a new choice. 

So I guess that is what success means to me: the freedom to choose, and to keep choosing, and to craft whatever kind of life we want. To be so blissfully contented in those choices that we don’t even care what anyone else is measuring us by, or give it a second thought. 
Because, you know, I wonder about Harrison Ford’s success sometimes; nobody ever asks him about his regrets. Something tells me he has as many as any of us, & that the movies weren’t the thing, in the end, that made him feel like he’d made it.

What does success look like for you? How do you shut out the voices of those who measure it differently?

  • Julia Williams

    Congrats lovely Me & Orla family ❀️ When it comes down to it, it’s the memories that matter – and Orla is going to have the most amazing ones of her family life and childhood x cheers to choice x

    • Rida Suleri-Johnson

      This <3

    • Yes! Here’s to memories, and husbands that are contractually obliged to bring cups of tea in bed in the morning πŸ˜‰

  • Cariemay

    Oh this is a topic dear to my heart! I wrote a blog post a while ago comparing success in blogging to knitting a jumper – the jumper I make could be technically perfect but if it doesn’t fit my friend Emma because she’s an entire foot shorter than me then she could make a jumper riddled with dropped stitches an unintended increases but because it fits her it’s the bigger success at keeping her warm, and it’s true for just about everything. Congratulations to the new team Me & Orla – my husband made the leap a couple of years ago when I went back to work full time after having my littlest and it’s been such a joy to see him properly relax and have the time to enjoy the children while they still think Mama and Daddy are amazing!

    • That’s a perfect analogy – plus maybe Emma *likes* her jumpers with that sloppy, imperfect look, and more power to her!
      Thanks for the congrats. Yes, the *relaxing* – it’s amazing to see and feels like the most wonderful gift for us all.

  • Love this and I’m so excited for you and for this new era in your family life! <3

  • Paula Solar

    “Hamill is a multi-millionaire, with three adult children he’s close to, a very happy 40 year marriage, who has worked continuously in the fields he adores.” This is the key, and I should add that he is adored and listened to by millions of people, that he treats people with respect and is respected. He’s approachable, kind, generous and very down-to-earth. I should not play the comparison game but… well let’s say that the one that everyone compares him to in terms of “success” (while I don’t know him and haven’t seen him in as many interviews, weird as it sounds) “seems to be” colder and distant. Success for me is growing as a person and get as much happiness as one can get, everything else is just details.

    I hate success meaning being in a position of power, whether it is economic power or of the other kind. That doesn’t define a person, their actions do. Success therefore for me is being like, yes, Mark Hamill… generous, kind, understanding and loving (of his family in the first place and of his fans, a different kind of love, but love all the same). Success is being like you Sara, for you work hard not only to be the best mum you can be to Orla, or the best wife you can be to R or the best… whatever to Mr. Himself (joking here) but you work hard to give your best to the people.

    Financial success ends when it’s not about freedom of choice, it ends when you make nothing out of it.

    But of course, I might be wrong… everyone else around me tells me so, and because I am wrong, they’re disappointed in me. But what can I do? I’d rather respect myself and be healthy than break myself and become miserable, don’t you think?

    • YES to all of this. It’s just such an outdated metric (if, indeed, it was *ever* useful) – like measuring liquid with a ruler! I laughed out loud at “being the best… whatever to Mr Himself” ?. Love you P x

  • Whoop! So thrilled for you, Rory and Miss O πŸ™‚
    There is something incredibly gutsy about women redefining success, on our own (individual and specific) terms. For years we’ve been given a linear model – climb the ladder – which is about pushing and striving and political games and blergh. It doesn’t work for most of the men it was designed to support.
    And now – largely becasue of technology – there are a multitude of alternatives and we are working them out as we go. But this is how we build the new economy – that is so much more collaborative and creative, its a hell of a lot richer and not just financially.
    We are currently looking for our home – taking everything we have build and saved over the last five years to our ‘place’. And we have no idea what this will take – money, time, patience, change – but success for us is about tending – to the land, the furs, our relationships with friends, clients, colleagues, our marriage.
    And becasue no one has ever done this in quite the way we will, there is no one else to compare this to, and no guarantee!
    But the process is aces – that we have these choices feels like success.

  • Congratulations! It’s all so well-deserved…

  • That’s really exciting, hope it goes well for you all. I couldn’t have put this post better myself if I tried. My interest in money goes as far as having enough to pay the bills, I have zero interest in working horrendously long working weeks for money to end up not being able to enjoy or appreciate my life and my loved ones. I see one of my friends doing this (not purely because of money) because he feels it’s expected of him if he wants his career to progress. What kind of company wants to send the message that their employees are expected to have no personal life in order to be successful?

    It’s interesting that we view success as the amount of money someone has; it shows how messed up “the system” is when enjoying your life and family is considered a luxury.

  • Thanks Finja! The photos are a bit unrelated but I always feel like a post is a bit naked without some, so here we are… x

  • Peabody Amelia

    total agreement. Success does not and should not look the same for everyone. What bring your joy? How do you feel when you get out of bed in the morning? Your blog and podcast bring me joy thank you.

  • Shannon Clark

    I absolutely agree! I’ve just graduated, I’ve managed to move out on my own and I’ve landed a job that I love – but because I’m not earning loads I still have this nagging voice telling me that I’m not successful just yet which is ridiculous because all of these things are huge successes on their own!

    Congratulations to you and your family, I hope it all goes incredibly well for you!

    http://www.sweetserendipityblog.co.uk