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the generation to do so – we are the subsect of industry who said ‘if you wont change your patriarchal, impractical, outdated and unequal system, then we’ll go and make our own.’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?