Questioning the Meaning of Success

People at bicycling event

“All of our lives we compete… and call it “success.”… But it is not so much the striving that is the problem as it is the sacrifice of all the other dimensions of life in order to achieve it. We sacrifice our own opinions, our own desires, our own interests, our own personal goals to meet the needs of people around us, and in the end, we sacrifice the burgeoning of the self for the brass rings of the social system… “ ~ Joan Chittister, “The Gift of Years”

I am reading The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, a book about “becoming” after retirement. Much of what I’ve read so far is about the freedom that comes from being outside the corporate world, where image matters so much. But I’m still in that world, and I know how much that makes me feel like I have to censor myself, although I’m not sure I do all that great of a job at it. Imagine how I would be if the censor was completely shut off…

One small example of this is how I’ve kept the link to my blog out of my LinkedIn profile because my blog self doesn’t fit the image of a woman anyone would want to hire for what I do. Nowadays, anyone doing hiring does web searches on a prospect and they would find my Twitter and Facebook and Website accounts, but I don’t want to make it too easy. Let’s call that denial…

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of work life/personal life separation. It’s often necessary to compartmentalize our lives for own safety and well being. But still, this has always felt false to me. The older I get, the more it bugs me.

It’s not like I’m being looked at for promotions or as someone to grow into an executive position, but I do need to keep my job. And yet I balk at hiding so many of the things that are important to me. Do I really want to protect a job or the chance for a future job that wouldn’t accept human mistakes, flaws, opinions, and general shit-happens kind of stuff?

“The purpose of a job is to make a living, not to make a life. Making a life is something we’re meant to do beyond the role. This is the part of life in which we work at succeeding at all the other dimensions of what it means to be alive.” ~ Joan Chittister, “The Gift of Years”

The meaning of success changes throughout a life. Often we follow society’s definition. If we’re lucky (or smart) we define it ourselves. I don’t want to wait until retirement to begin living in a deeper, more meaningful way. I want that now.

As some of us gather together today to give thanks, I hope we will open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, who have had shit happen — people we may be uncertain of, look down on or even be afraid of. What you are thankful for today will depend on your situation:

  • Whether you are in the thick of it but thankful for a friend or partner or child in your life or the food on the table.
  • Or whether you are living comfortably and are thankful because you have come through a difficult time and are feeling well deserved peace.
  • And if you can’t find anything to be thankful for, it’s likely you are depressed and I hope you find help because that’s a hell of a place to be.

I’m thinking about all of you today, whatever your situation, and hoping you also won’t have to wait until retirement to find the “other dimensions of what it means to be alive.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

dog sitting on step

Similar Posts


  1. What a thought provoking post… I am grateful to have found your blog this morning. As a former corporate executive, now church secretary, I can relate. But guess what? For other reasons, I have “separation issues” still. For example, what would the good people of the parish where I work think about all the things that I write? I’m not exactly hidden, but I don’t really promote my writing there…

    This, I imagine, is how we grow into integrity, into being fully alive, and not until retirement.

    Peace and prayers, gratitude and more to you this day.

  2. I’ve questioned the meaning of success many times over my life. For me, I think that achieving happiness is success. I used to publish papers and do all sorts of stuff that other people thought were signs of success – but they didn’t make me happy. No more. I do have chronic pain to cope with but I work hard at finding some happiness in each day.

    I hope that you had a restful and thankful day. I follow along here, although I don’t comment too often. I enjoy your honest and thoughtful ruminations.

Comments are closed.