Are you afraid of success?

I haven’t written in a while. Not because I’ve been having writer’s block (though that certainly helps), but because I’ve been pondering the direction of my life. “I’m almost 30” is a phrase I’ll be using until I turn 30 to justify any number of things I don’t want to do anymore. However, it’s also got me thinking things I’ve never thought.

A few months ago, I had my employment plan for the foreseeable future planned out. And then everything changed. The details aren’t important. The outcome is that what was secure is now insecure.

I’ve been reading a lot about success as of late and stumbled on a gem of a book by G. Richard Shell called Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success. Without giving away too much of the book, one of the early chapters has an exercise designed to test your values. Shell presents the lives of six different individuals and asks readers to rate them from 1 (highest) to 6 (lowest) on which person has it all.

My number one choice was a stone mason, who lived in the same city his entire life, was married for more than 50 years and had successful children and grandchildren. My number two choice was a nonprofit executive, married for 20 years who took a huge pay cut to chase his real passions in life.

According to Shell, my number one choice indicates that I am committed to both my craft and my family, with recognition being unimportant (or secondary in my case. My number two choice indicates that I am drawn to answer a spiritual or value based calling.

Shell then instructs readers to consider which of the six lives they’d want for their one and only child.

My one and two flipped.

Shell concludes that what we’d want for our children may be what we secretly want for ourselves.

I think he’s right.

I identify with the stone mason out of solidarity for a period of love that once was; an age where you married your high school (or college) sweetheart and stayed together until somebody died. Twenty first century option, my advanced degree and millennial standing have me unconsciously chasing the dream of the nonprofit executive. Answering a values based calling is the professional driver in my life. Having the 20-year marriage is the new 50-year in an age when half of marriages end in divorce.

This is my picture of success.

While it was all good just a week few months ago, I’m hungry for the pursuit of a calling that more reflects my values.

Shell highlights two important questions that help define success:

  1. What can I start? (As opposed to “What can I do?”)
  2. What can I do better than most

The answers for me are simple. I want to start –or contribute to—a movement for social or individual change. What I do better than most is write.

Guess I better start moving.

UPDATE: If you want to do the six lives exercise, click here.


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