Success?

Relaxing dayHave you thought much about your definition of success? I didn’t get to this for a long, long time. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized the definition of success is individual and has to be developed from your own experiences and desires. Prior to that I accepted the typical definition of success without thinking  – education, good job, family, home, and financial security, but it still took me a long time to achieve that. I dropped out of college after 2 years and didn’t go back to complete my degree until 20 years later, I didn’t have a “good” job until I was well into my 30’s, I got divorced, I didn’t own a house until I was almost 40, and I didn’t have any sense of financial security until I was in my 50’s so, for most of my adult life, I didn’t meet the standard definition of success. In fact, I often felt like a failure because I compared myself to other people I knew and thought they were better than me. I finally learned that it is a big mistake to compare yourself to others because things can look good from the outside but none of us really knows what is going on inside someone else’s life. I’ll never forget the first time that really hit home with me. I was friendly with a couple whose marriage I had always admired and envied and then the wife confided that she was having an affair – and it wasn’t the first time. Another lesson about comparing myself to someone occurred when a man I knew professionally for years was charged with embezzling funds from the non-profit for which he was the CEO. He was a few years younger than me and I had envied his quick rise to “success”.

No one else can tell you if you are a success or not. Even if you followed the prescribed path to success and you’re making a lot of money and getting awards and accolades, you can still feel empty inside. Why is that? I think it goes back to self-love and following your inner compass. You have to figure out what has meaning to you and what makes you happy, regardless of what anyone else says. Recently it has occurred to me that the definition of success, like so many things, can change over the course of a lifetime. My decision to retire at 60 and take a decreased retirement income may not be considered a smart move by some people but it gave me personal freedom, which had become part of my new definition of success.

Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges in reinventing my life has been redefining success. When I retired I had no plan and knew only three things for sure. I knew I wanted to draw and write. I knew I wanted to keep my mind open to opportunities and experiences that would be meaningful to me and through which I could learn new things about myself and the world in which I live. I knew I wanted to take more time to just enjoy simple things like watching birds from my porch, walking with my dog, having the time to try new recipes, being able to lie on the sofa all afternoon reading a good book without the pressure of a schedule. It was difficult for me to stop thinking in terms of accomplishments and goals. I realized recently that even after 2 years I was still operating under some of the old standards of success by pressuring myself to be “productive” and feeling guilty if I didn’t do “enough” in a day. By whose definition?

My new definition of success is much smaller in scope than my old one – now it is defined only by the quality of each day. When I go to bed at night can I look back on the day and feel that I enjoyed whatever I did? Did I treat everyone with kindness (including myself)? Did I remember to be grateful for all the good in my life? If I can answer yes to those questions then I have had a successful day. I think this new definition will serve me well for the rest of my life. The truth is, no matter what phase of life you are in, you never have to meet any definition of success other than your own. If you have worked hard to achieve what you thought was success but you don’t feel happy and fulfilled, don’t lose heart because it’s never too late to reevaluate and make some changes. Maybe asking yourself my questions every night would be a good place to start.

I enjoyed everything I did today. I was kind to everyone I met ... um, what was the other question?

I enjoyed everything I did today. I was kind to everyone I met … um, what was the other question?

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

 

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Parenting 101

A drawing I did from an old photo of me and my son

A drawing I did from an old photo of me and my son

Remaining true to my contrary nature I’m going to start right off by saying that, despite the title of this blog, I can’t tell you much about parenting and I don’t think I was very good at it. Also being true to a common theme on this blog, I have to say that my lack of success as a parent, as in so many things, stems from a lack of self-love (yes, everything leads me back there). When I got divorced I didn’t really know myself and, unfortunately, that carried over into being a single parent. A lot of the good things I learned about parenting from my own upbringing went out the window when I was confronted with the reality of raising a child alone. Nothing in my knowledge or previous experience had prepared me for that kind of nail-biting stress, worry, fear, and loneliness. Being a single parent turned out to be the hardest job I ever had and, to be honest, I know now that my own lack of self-love made it even harder.

 Looking back I can clearly see where I went wrong; I became infected by a very, very bad five letter word – GUILT. I felt guilty when my son was hurt by his father’s absence or disappointed by a canceled visit and that guilt began to affect the way I parented him. He was smart and strong-willed and he learned at an early age how to manipulate me by using my guilt but my own insecurities and lack of self-love made it easy for him. I understand now that I was trying to overcompensate for the fact that he didn’t have his father in his life – as if all the blame for the divorce was mine – and I was inconsistent with discipline and probably gave him conflicting messages because I felt conflicted about so many things. Through his teen years and 20’s he had what I can only describe as a love-hate relationship with me. If I said yes and did whatever he wanted he loved me, if I said no he hated me. I usually did whatever he asked, even when I knew it was a mistake, because I wanted him to love me. (Hint – this doesn’t work any better with your kids than it does in relationships with anybody else!) Ultimately, all I did was allow him to extend his adolescence. Don’t worry, it’s a happy ending – he grew up to be a very nice man, in spite of everything.

 My son is 36 now and things have been calmer between us for the past few years; partly because he finally started to grow up and partly because I did. I started loving myself and taking care of my own needs. I learned how to say no to him and mean it. I forgave myself for whatever mistakes I had made as a parent and, most importantly, I stopped trying to “win” his love. I know he loves me but he doesn’t communicate very often in between our infrequent visits and doesn’t share much about his life with me. When I drop him off at the airport I never know how long it will be before I hear from him again. (Maybe he actually works for the CIA.)

Anyway, for those of you who are still parenting a dependent child – or even an adult child who still acts like one – my best and only piece of parenting advice is to love yourself. If you don’t show yourself love and respect then you can’t expect it from anyone else, including your children. One of my mother’s favorite sayings is “start out as you intend to go on” and it is beautiful in it’s simplicity because it works no matter what new situation you are entering – marriage, job, school, friendship, parenthood – it is simply telling you that if you’re true to yourself from the start, you won’t go wrong. Here’s what I learned about guilt – if you remain true to yourself in all situations, you will never have reason to feel guilty.

I like to be babied ... but this is ridiculous! (Stella has " issues" sometimes :-) )

I like to be babied … but this is ridiculous!
(Stella has ” issues” sometimes 🙂 )

Speaking of parenting, have you read my book “Velvet Ropes: The Ties That Bind Mothers and Daughters” ? 20 true personal mother/daughter stories – a great gift!

See more of my artwork and books at www.lyndalinke.com

The Meaning of Life

To thine own self be trueHa, ha! Made ya look! I bet you thought I was going to tell you the meaning of life – the eternally elusive answer to that question we have all asked ourselves at one time or another. Sorry, I can’t tell you because I have no idea what the correct answer is for you. I’ve had enough trouble figuring out what the answer is for me! I finally decided that, religious and philosophical debates aside, the answer for me is truth. I wrote about my basic truths in a simple little book titled Try Lots of Hats. Simple but not easy.

So, what is truth? Keats said “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Truth is beautiful, painful, frightening, inspiring, uplifting, cruel, enlightening and freeing. The truth really will set you free but sometimes it hurts. Truth is that thing you don’t want to face because it is easier to continue fooling yourself. That reminds me of something else I believe is true – there is no freedom without personal responsibility. Many people believe that there is only one truth but I don’t agree. I think truth is any conviction or belief that feels real – in other words if you feel in your heart and mind, without doubt, that something is true then it is … for you … at that moment in time. The only indisputable, unchangeable truths are found in Natural Law.

Personal truths are a whole different story – there are things I passionately believed to be true 20, 30, 40 years ago that are no longer valid. When I was in my 20’s the meaning of a successful life was love, marriage, and creating a family. That was my truth. I was not an ambitious, career-oriented person. I just wanted to be happy and my idea of happiness at that point was to have a loving husband, a few kids, a nice house and a comfortable lifestyle. My marriage vows were my truth when I was 21 but, by the time I was 30, they were no longer true. By my 30’s I was divorced and the meaning of life became finding a career path and furthering my education so that I could support myself and my child independently. Throughout my 30’s and 40’s I was trying to find true love but that eluded me because I didn’t understand that I had to love and respect myself first. I didn’t realize it at the time but, I was searching for someone to fulfill my emotional needs and make me feel good about myself. During my 50’s I achieved success in my career but, more importantly, I finally learned to love myself. Interestingly, the more loving and accepting I felt toward myself the easier it was to recognize the important truths in my life. When you’re not being honest about who you really are it is easy to be fooled into believing something is true – because you are drifting around without an anchor, searching for meaning, and thinking someone or something can give it to you.

Now I’m in my ‘60’s and, so far, it is my best decade since childhood. Just like everyone else, I’ve been through some challenging and painful experiences in my life but, thankfully, they helped me figure out what my truth is. Do you know what your core truths are? Do you live by guiding principles that you believe in and not just something you accepted from someone else? Wherever you are in your life, regardless of anything you have done in the past, it’s never too late to figure out what your truth is and start aligning your thoughts and actions to it.

At the beach August 2013 002

See more of my art and books at www.lyndalinke.com