I had dinner Saturday evening with one of my girlfriends and we got into a deep conversation about a variety of topics. But the one that had me thinking all evening and most of today was a simple question she asked me: “How do you define success?”
In truth I don’t know. What is success? My daughter and I discussed success today as it concerns weight loss. Is it the number on the scale? The size of clothes you wear? Or your BMI?
In light of this blog, I gave much thought to this topic and considered it in light of the roles of emotionally barren families. This is not a topic I’ve researched, nor is it a topic I’ve come up with directly in my practice, but I think it profoundly affects all of us who may be locked into a way of behaving – whether that’s a huge padlock that keeps us still or a diary lock that’s easily broken. Remember too that all these roles are defined by their family. The accomplishments of a hero in a poor, uneducated family will likely look much different than those of a child from a middle class family. Remember, these aren’t conscious choices, but are an instinctual reaction to the families’ stress.
The Hero (which I clearly am and still work to overcome) never succeeds. From the outside, they look good – they have multiple accomplishments, awards and acclamations. They do things no one else has done and in time frames that are amazing. But…while they can celebrate their accomplishments in the moment, usually heroes end up diminishing them after awhile, often saying “No big deal, anyone could have done it.” Ironically, they mean it at some level.
Another thing about heroes is that they usually have a wonderful portfolio, resume or CV. But it may not seem to be so great to them. When heroes are locked into their role, whatever they have done is not enough. Goals become stepping stones to more and bigger and better. And there’s always another goal. How would I know success? I’m not sure. Because with every step of my life there’s always another step to reach for.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing or undesireable. Heroes can change the world. But often this happens with incredible stress on ourselves. And with a constant sense of ‘not being enough, quick enough, well enough.’
Rebels measure success in a totally different manner. Since they are the ‘failures’ of their family, they often measure success by how far their rebellion takes them from their families’ desires. So if wealth and professional success matter to their family, the rebel will actively seek outcomes that do no contribute to the family’s status. They will measure success in a totally different field. I had a client who’s family were all doctors and dentists. She went into the IT world, becoming very successful, eventually becoming the director of a large department. She got her bulimia under control and lived a contented life. To her family, she was still a failure, because she hadn’t gone into medicine. As a speech pathologist, nurse or veterinarian, she still would have been the family failure.
She could never completely enjoy and delight in her success because it wasn’t good enough for her family. She made a professional income, had a great deal of responsibility which she handled well. But she never felt like a success. None of the rest mattered – she had absorbed the family decision that she was a failure and lived it out, in spite of her accomplishments.
The Lost Child is often an introvert who chooses to minimize their relationships with others. They may achieve success, as defined by the outside world, but often don’t feel successful. And if the stress is too heavy, they will walk away from that position in order to find something with less demands on them. If they are of an academic bent, they may go back to school, looking for the perfect career. This is a good way for the Lost Child to look like they’re moving forward and to justify to themselves why they’re doing what they’re doing, but it is still a way to avoid the stress of a regular job and to avoid people.
The Mascot is an interesting study when considering success. For some of them, their humor will be an element of ‘cool’ and will propel them to levels of success. For others, that humor will deny them professional success and keep them in jobs that are below their abilities.
But of course, success is more than your job and your accomplishments, isn’t it? So how do you define success? Has it been affected by your role in your family? Or your place in the birth order? Or your own drives? I’d love to know what you think about this topic…because I’m still thinking about it.