What does success mean to you? Having lots of money to buy lots of stuff? Or is it having a particular job? Or, maybe . . . retiring from a particular job?
Well I, personally, am retired from a particular job, which was accounting. That was the one that paid the bills anyway. Was I passionate about accounting? Did doing the books make me feel like I was dripping in success? Maybe cooking the books would have? Ha ha. But, like with most things in life, there are rules and I actually like rules . . . Okay, never mind. Scratch that.
My husband B just read this and he said, “Hmmm, you like rules?” I don’t like rules, but I understand they’re necessary. In accounting they’re called GAAP – Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – and while there may have been a gap in what I did and what I should have done from time to time, I’m certain it was rare.
I derived satisfaction from accounting, sure, especially when the financial statement results were favourable since I was part-owner of the company I was doing the books for. But can any accountant out there say, with passion – even the crème de la crème of accountants! – I love, love, love my job? It is possible, I suppose. I mean, here in town is an accounting firm that promotes itself as “Accountants with Personality!”. I’ve met one of the directors and he sports pretty rad dress shirts, in wild colours – like purple and pink – with outrageous paisley patterns. It’s obvious he loves to dress for work. Maybe he loves his job?
B was a damn fine accountant at one time, working his way up the ranks of banking in the U.S. His mastery of debits and credits is far and beyond anything I can comprehend! When I studied accounting it pained my brain before a vague understanding emerged of what the whole complicated mess was about. But B? He just gets it. He got it. And then? He left it all behind for a career in show biz. Well, it’s not like he’s a star or anything. What I mean to say is, he is a star to me and to the big building he oversees and all of his employees. But, mostly he rubs shoulders with stars and famous musicians and elite athletes while working daily on a 12-step program to recover from accountantism.
So, when B meets someone new and they ask – as people do – “What do you do?”, he has an exceptional answer. He can say he runs the 10,000-seat arena in town, which is the absolute golden gem of our city, everyone loves, loves, loves going there. And then he can launch into a tale about how Diana Krall hugged him because of the gift they gave her, or about the intelligent conversation he had with Robert Plant, or about how Neil Young told him to do something about those compressors, they just don’t sound right.
But . . . sometimes even B avoids the question about what he does. Why? When we first started hanging out I could not understand this. He explained: “They’ll want tickets. Or, they’ll want to tell me about a problem.”
When people ask me the question “What do you do?”, I cringe. Why? I don’t know how to answer. Am I a failure? I wonder. The real answer is too long (and sad) and complicated. I didn’t retire by choice, my first husband, who I was in business with, died suddenly and unexpectedly and I toiled away for a while and then decided to sell the business, blah-blah-blah. While I was passionate about the employees, customers and suppliers, I wasn’t particularly passionate about the business – or the accounting of it – anyway. Is there guilt there? What, truly, am I passionate about? Life!
I’d like to be super-confident and one day, when someone says, “What do you do?”, I’d like to just say, “I live!” That’s what I do! I live! I know. It’s kinda obvious and general, but it is what I do every day in which I wake up.
The last time someone asked me the “what do you do” question? I said, “Well, I’m kinda retired.” And then I added, apologetically and for validity, “But, I am a fitness instructor. And I write.” I didn’t want the guy thinking I sit around all day, popping bon-bons.
He said, “You write and you’re kinda retired? What does that mean? You write less words?” Hmmm.
Alain de Botton has a great talk at www.ted.com worth checking out called “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success”. He hits on the origins of our current anxiety, why it’s so hard to remain calm in today’s world. Do you realize it’s a relatively new situation, this worshipping of humans – like all the greats B encounters at work? We used to worship transcendent beings, beings that could handle worship, like God, gods and goddesses. It’s dang tough for mere mortals to handle such pressure, hence our high suicide rates.
Success. Mass media, family, friends and acquaintances are often chirping away, shoving their notion of it on you. It’s important to figure out what success means to you, so you can drip in your very own version of it.