I’m in a place of trying to define happiness and success.
I’m with myself a lot more than I was pre-pandemic. There’s more space for quiet. I think a lot of us are asking: Is this what I want my life to look like after this is over? Is this what I want things to be? Do I want to return to a conception of the world that isn’t serving me … that hasn’t been serving me? Let’s build up practices now so that hopefully when this is all done, it’s going to be different.
And now — while I don’t hate money and I would love some more of it — it’s not the sole way that I measure my worth.
My ideas of success before were very rooted in what I thought other people wanted of me and not necessarily what I wanted. And as a child of immigrants, that definition was really wrapped up in monetary accumulation — the idea that safety and security can be acquired once you hit a certain salary threshold.
It was always six figures and being able to take care of my family, but just like monetarily, not emotionally. And now — while I don’t hate money and I would love some more of it — it’s not the sole way that I measure my worth.
Success comes down to my why. I recently sent a message to someone who had reached out to me about my work. I replied to say thank you and check in on how she’s doing. She responded that the work that I do has inspired a parenting group in Boulder, Colorado, of 500 people focused on anti-racist parenting. And that is not at all something that I was thinking about, but that’s success to me — even if it doesn’t feel like the vanity metrics I was looking for before I started doing all this deeper thinking about how I want to show up in the world and who I am. That’s success to me. That’s having an impact.
The Road Here
In 2013-2014 I had a partner with mater mea, and she said that she didn’t want to work with me anymore, that anyone could do what I was doing as a writer, that she could find someone else to do it. She wanted unilateral control to do what she wanted. That was probably the third worst breakup I’ve ever been through. Friendship breakups are sometimes 10 times worse than romantic breakups. The way that that message was conveyed to me and the way that I received it — it really, really struck some deep-seated sensitivities that I have that I’m just now getting over. And that was years ago.
At the time, it really felt on fire every day. And my tears were the only thing that could put it out.
Then at the same time, my former employer was claiming they owned mater mea because I hadn’t declared it in a non-compete agreement. I didn’t think my website about black motherhood had anything to do with what they had hired me to do so I didn’t put it down as a competitor or a project I was working on. But once it got a little bit of press buzz, it became an issue. And they said I was in breach of contract and that I could either work on it for them or not at all, but it didn’t really matter because they owned it. This thing had become more than a project — it was my life’s work and the thing that started to give my life more meaning.
At the time, it really felt on fire every day. And my tears were the only thing that could put it out. I was just crying and so sad for two or three weeks. But I got a lawyer, and we fought for the site. And after a conversation with my partner, we reached an agreement where I could keep the site.
But initially, those felt like huge, huge failings on my part. I couldn’t help but think that if I’d been a better partner, she wouldn’t want to break this off. If I’d been smarter, I would’ve had someone look over this contract and I wouldn’t have been in this position.
Now I see these experiences as successes because I learned from the former employer issue to always, always get things in writing, and always have a lawyer look over contracts. But I also learned that I had something that someone wanted — so I must’ve been on the right track with what I was doing.
This is a very recent shift for me. And it’s all a choice I’ve learned. Instead of framing it as these things that happened to me, it was, why are you still choosing to let it continue to happen to you?
Being OK with Failure
I didn’t let myself do anything that I would fail at prior to 2020. I only like doing things I’m good at; I don’t want the feeling of being dumb. It’s something I picked up from childhood. The way that I got attention was by being good at things. And so I equated approval with success and with not failing. But you can’t really learn anything if you don’t fail, I now realize.
And as I get more comfortable in my success, I’m eager to build on to it and move forward.