It doesn’t always look like success

It doesn’t always look like success

It was a summer evening on Whidbey Island a couple of years ago. We were on a relaxing family beach vacation, and I was breaking down in tears.

My sister had just shown us a video of an amazing scarf acrobatics dance routine that she had choreographed to the song Thunder by Imagine Dragons. It was stunning and beautiful and powerful and after watching it, I was a wreck.

I found a private place to cry and I wept. I was in the throes of raising my two young kids, obsessed mainly with the prospect of naptime when I would be only responsible for myself and no one else. I hadn’t seen much recognition of late in my writing and I was always tired and there was a lot of work and more work and nothing to show for it. My brother had just received an award for excellence at work, if my memory serves me right. Envy rarely fails me on those points. And they don’t hand out parenting awards, in case anyone was under any delusions. Ahem.

Seeing my sister accomplish something beautiful and artistic at that moment in my summer was enough to make me feel like a wad of dirty paper towel, soggy with self-pity. I was writing, sure, but was any of that going anywhere or being recognized?

I’m a 4 on the Enneagram personality test (a 4w3 if you want to get technical), which has not surprised my friends who are familiar with the test. I call the personality type The Moody Self-Absorbed Image-Obsessed Artist which is definitely not the official title. It’s possibly more accurate, though, at least in my case. The way people view me matters to me. A lot. And I assume they see me the way I see myself, which is tough when I’m wearing my Harsh Critic hat.

But you know what? Having kids softens some places that were hard before (and no I’m not referring to my abs…).

For example, my son has loved books ever since he could snuggle on my lap and listen to them. He still cries out with the joy of finding buried treasure every time I bring home a new batch of library books. I started working with him on beginning literacy at age three because he was showing interest at the time, not because I wanted to push him early. And then…it got hard. He fidgeted, he jumped around, he dragged his feet as much as he could. He’s six now, he can read some basics, but we haven’t spread our wings yet.

Is this within the realm of normal? Yes, I’m just disappointed. I just wanted it to be sooner.

Did you fail him as a teacher?  No, he’s just not an early reader.

Does he hate the idea books and reading now? No, he still adores books.

So, basically, you still have room to grow when it comes to patience. Yes.

Despite my yearning for my kid to embark on his own reading adventure with the skills to chart his own course, I am slowly learning (and re-learning, for myself) to view his journey with compassion. I can see his heart is in the right place and his love for learning is anything but quenched. It’s just not his time for reading yet.

Success, whether it’s recognition on a public platform for an achievement, or it’s the joy of breaking into a new dimension of knowledge, or it’s finishing a long and arduous project, always comes as a short blip at the end of the dry, painful, discouraging, or just plain monotonous road. And I’ll go ahead and say it’s okay to cry and drop your bags and sit there for a while blubbering how it’s not worth going on. Just make sure to call someone who won’t let you stay there.

Compassion seems to me to be the saving grace in those places when we’re just not getting anywhere near our goal. The key isn’t just diligence and sticking to my guns. I’ve done that and I’ve felt my soul shrivel because I’ve done it with the merciless grit toward my own finite energies, ignoring my subconscious emotions.

I don’t believe my heart is stupid or irrational anymore. It holds deep secrets and dreams and if I’m gentle with it I can turn over the earth to find dormant bulbs underneath, sleeping life that’s ready to crack open. Life that needed the dark, dreary, wet and cold to mature its readiness to bloom. Compassion here is the patience of decaying bark and frost to wait for the first green leaves to push through the colorless soil.

Escape Pod will be turning my short story “Inheritance” into a narrated podcast. It’s the tale of a woman who receives an unexpected gift from her deceased grandmother, while walking through the grief of repeated miscarriages. It’s about family, memory, and healing. It’s deeply personal and much of the content came from the darkest chapters of my life. Now it’s being turned into something beautiful.

I think what I want to say is it—and “it” is whatever we’re dealing with today—really doesn’t need to look like success. Whatever it is that we’re doing or struggling with or wishing would hurry up and change, let’s look hard and see if we can find compassion for that person who isn’t doing what we wish they’d do, and see if we can extend the tenderness even a tiny bit toward ourselves. We can be faithful and also be brokenhearted. We can wait in the dark and still emerge into the light. We can inhale hope, even when the smoke of despair is choking us.

It doesn’t have to look like success. Maybe it will someday, but if that’s not today, think of a young, bright intelligent little six-year-old boy who loves books but hasn’t yet figured out how to read, and feel that glow of pride in your chest knowing that one day it will click for him, and the best way he’ll reach that breakthrough, is through patient, diligent love to guide him.


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