First, thank you to all the new subscribers — I’m glad you’re here! It’s been an amazing week– seeing over 1,300 visits to the site after the guest post at Be More with Less was very encouraging for me.
As such, I’ve been thinking about success, and about what it means to be successful. I find within myself a tendency to equate success with grand gestures and sweeping achievements (or lots of hits on a website!) At times I fall into the trap of thinking that the formula for a successful (work)day looks like this:
Q (quantity of tasks accomplished) x P (pace at which tasks are completed) + E (exhaustion pushed past) = S (successful day)
What’s wrong with this equation? A surfeit of tasks, times speed, plus exhaustion…equals success? Only if you define success as doing violence to your natural rhythms and ignoring your inherent limits.
For another version of success, I turn to someone who surpasses me in age and wisdom: my friend and former L’Arche housemate, Cassandra*.
Once, when I asked Cassandra how her day was, she paused for consideration and said, “It was…successful.”
The candor and contentment in her voice took me by surprise. At the time, I couldn’t imagine making the same statement, for fear of sounding too proud. Yet there was no arrogance in Cassandra’s voice. There was simply a straightforward statement of sufficiency and fact.
Of course, I asked her, “What did you do today?”
She replied that she’d done some art, wrote some sentences, and talked to people. While I don’t think she meant her words to be a predetermined outline, I think there’s wisdom in the three things she chose to do on her ‘successful’ day.
Doing some art: For Cassandra, art is relaxing. She gravitates toward the ‘ark desk’ without prompting. She can spend long periods of time at the desk, bent over a piece of construction paper, happily absorbed in her drawing.
What’s your ‘home base’, the fail-safe, smile-sparking activity that makes time disappear for you? It could be something as simple as hopscotch in the park with your kids or as complex as weaving on a loom. Get some playtime in your day.
Writing some sentences: Writing is more of a challenge for Cassandra, but it’s a task she relishes. She practices every day, and her pages tell fascinating (if cryptic) stories. She writes fiction, non-fiction, and writing that defies categorization. (My favorite composition reads: “I went to a puminekin paninch /15 t 47 St / Im beween the rope or stringe / I stay up erely in the moneing”)
What step can you take in the direction of your dreams? What work can you dedicate yourself to with enthusiasm? Undertake a compelling challenge…
And yes, it helps to play first. (If you’re anything like me, you skipped over that first one.) Go back! Get out your sidewalk chalk! Your work will thank you– you’ll bring fresh eyes and a brighter spirit to your tasks.
Talking to people: Cassandra is an introvert. She is fond of long silences, and it takes time to get to know her well. However, she is also a consummate expert when it comes to talking to people and asking them for what she wants. How does she do it? She makes people feel special. She looks into their eyes and holds their hands. She asks them to take her out to tea. She is difficult to resist because she truly wants to spend time with them, to see the world with them.
Once you’ve played and worked in ways that feel right to you, who can you reach out to? Who do you want to spend time with and see the world with? Give someone your undivided attention.
Here’s the new equation for success, according to Cassandra:
P (play you delight in) + W (work you care about) + C (connecting with people) = S (successful day)
As such, I leave you with a quote from Wayne Muller’s The Art of Being, Having and Doing Enough (highly recommended):
“…tiny choice points arise hundreds of times every day. They are small, humble, tender things….Each choice we make that feels reliable and true produces a sense of being and having enough in this moment. A life made of such moments, strung together as pearls on a necklace, can become…a surprisingly elegant and beautiful journey of deep contentment and sufficiency.”
This passage makes me think of Cassandra, wearing her pearl necklace and living her life, one ‘successful’ day at a time.
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*Names have been changed.