Why are we so reluctant to call ourselves successful?
PUBLISHED: 11:16 09 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:58 09 May 2019
No matter how hard we work at achieving our goals, it seems we're still a million miles away from thinking of ourselves as successful...
A month or so ago, I received a Facebook notification inviting me to my 10 year school reunion. Before I could even properly read through the event invite though, my brain immediately jumped from one emotion to another, and then another, all in response to the words that accompanied the familiar red dot.
At first I was shocked: "wow, has it really been that long?" I thought. Then came excitement: "okay, seeing old friends again could be fun". And then came the worry: "I can't think of one remotely stand out thing I've achieved in the last 10 years… great, people are going to think I haven't amounted to much."
If films are anything to go by, reunions are stressful; panicking about the most minor of details beforehand, worrying what others are thinking of you when you walk in, and then feeling anxious all evening as to whether you've painted yourself in enough of a positive light to look like you've got your life together, but not so much that your deemed as snooty or self-righteous.
Why can't it be as simple as confidently mingling with former classmates (without the worry of the event being awkward or cliquey), catching up and going home having had a fun night? Why, if I choose to go, am I sure to spend the evening comparing myself and my 'successes' to the people I used to compare myself to when I was 16?
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Despite having a good job, a supportive family and a great relationship among more, I often struggle with the term success and, ultimately, the concept of being successful myself. And I know I'm not alone. The term impostor syndrome is pretty well known in this day and age, and that's because the feeling - of doubting your abilities and achievements, even when there's evidence to prove otherwise - is pretty common.
In my head, everyone else seems to be doing so much better than I am. They've got their dream job, they have their own family, their own home… and me, well I'm still just muddling my way through. I'm not sure I even feel like a proper adult yet. I read a recent study the other day that stated it's not until aged 31 that Brits feel like they've reached adulthood. If that's the case, the next five years of still being stuck in limbo are going to be fun…
To me, what I consider 'success' to be changes regularly, depending on what I'm after at a given time. This continual uncertainty has defined my twenties so far, and, as a result, has made it much more difficult to feel like I've 'made it'. - And, I've come to realise this is likely because - and it's a confusing thing to hear myself say - there's always going to be something more that I want or want to achieve. I'm not sure if that makes me ambitious or ungrateful.
If there ever is a time when things are going well and I think "maybe I'm not doing so badly", the word success will never still come into play. If I look at my job for example, I often feel that I'm not as far ahead as I could be, that I haven't achieved half of the things I set out to do. In retrospect though, I think I've done alright. I was reminded the other week of a school newspaper I created when I was 10. I begged the teachers to let me and a couple of friends put something together for the rest of our year. We filled it with short news stories, events and crosswords, and my mum printed out multiple copies for us to hand out around class a few weeks later.
When I was about 13 or 14, I also remember walking past the old Archant offices, seeing the EADT logo, and thinking "maybe I can apply for work experience there in a few years time". I've clearly wanted a career that involves writing for some time, so surely where I am now counts as some kind of success?
It took me a while (and a conversation with friends), to realise that everyone is working it out as they go along. In reality, we all feel pretty much the same - we're all just trying to do our best.
Success is one of those interesting modern paradoxes in that everyone seems to want it, but few feel they've achieved it personally. Maybe though, to feel like we're doing well, we need to step away from the huge, overwhelming life goals we set for ourselves and instead favour making small, attainable steps; ones that we can tick off one by one, along the way our 'final' destination. Maybe we should try looking at 'success' slightly differently; defining it as an action instead of an achievement or desired state. What if success didn't always have to be a win or the attainment of something we didn't have before? What if it could sometimes simply be an effort?