I received a very fancy magazine from Dundee Uni recently – matte, heavy-weight paper – celebrating 50 years of independence from St Andrews. It was cover to cover of stories of alumni who had made their mark in their field. There was the Oscar nominated film-maker, the owner of a worldwide private member’s club, the physio to a gold winning Olympic team, the British High Commissioner in Ghana, the comic artist who had made it onto DC Comics within a few years of graduating, the microbiologist who made it onto the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.
It was in part inspiring but mostly crippling. It made it out that success in your field was the most important thing you can do in life; that to really make it in life you have to be at the top and influence loads of people. That to be a mover and shaker is the pinnacle of life. That how worthwhile your life is depends on the degree you have utilised your degree.
It really made me doubt what impact, if any, I would have on the world. Given how my work life is going, will I ever make it? Essentially, I am working in a job I needn’t have gone to uni for, so in some senses I am not really using the degree. I sometimes feel I have gone backward, especially as I completed a college course after my university degree, to stay in my field. And I have no idea, in my late 30’s, of the general trajectory of my career.
Maybe it’s because of this I hold onto a broader definition of success than Dundee Uni allude to. Call it jealousy if you like. But for those few stories of people at the top, there are thousands of others just putting in the hours, day to day. So here’s some more everyday markers of success.
Success is coming through depression (and a bad case of burn out), a break from uni, and coming back to finish a degree.
Success is getting up on Monday morning.
Success is about surviving the day not unscathed but wounded and refusing to go down like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Success is about getting stuff done regardless of how you feel – both in the low and highs.
Success is about keeping the negative talk muted – or on quiet – so that you can concentrate on the bigger stuff.
Success is getting up on Tuesday.
Success is about plodding on through the mire even when you feel like every ounce in your body aches, your heart has no desire to go on and your mind tells you that it’s just not possible.
Success is about managing self-loahing so that you don’t harm yourself.
Success is getting up on Wednesday.
Success is about doing the best you can and not getting lost in the trap of being at the top: not all of us will be first but we can all cross the finish line.
Success is getting up on Thursday.
Success is about coming home Friday having seen through another week, despite everything it’s thrown at you.
Success is about working day in day out at the thing you are called to do, because that is where you fit and that is where you make a difference, be it in front of many of a handful.
Perhaps I set the bar too low and I could aim higher. I do, when I am well which I am at the moment, but I have lapses especially with regard to self talk and getting up… I have markers of success within my day job as well. But we keep going, you and I dear reader, and in so doing are making successes of our lives.