I’m a failure according to my own definition.
The current me doesn’t think I’m a failure – I’m pretty happy about where I’m at in life and feel I’m doing what I love at the moment. It’s one of the versions of me from the past that thinks I’m a failure.
There was a time (I shudder to recall) when I thought being an elected politician was the way to live and spread freedom. I went to work in the legislature to see how to become a lawmaker. During that time I met a lot of people who didn’t know me before and haven’t kept up since. They knew the Isaac who defined success as being an elected official. Friends and relatives saw me working in politics and could foresee what a successful end in that realm looked like in their minds. For these people, my life won’t be a success until I achieve what I was then pursuing.
Along the way I learned more about myself. My goals didn’t change, just the way I visualized achieving them. I was pursuing a certain ideal and a bundle of sensations. I was pursuing freedom. I was incapable of imagining anything but a crude vision of political freedom, and my worldview was so simple I thought politicians created it. Therefore I wanted to be one. Freedom is still what I want, but with more experience and knowledge I have come to believe being involved in politics would be the worst possible way to achieve it. My definition of success morphed.
This happens all the time with humans. A child may say he wants to be a firefighter only because in his world, firefighter is one of the four or five options he can imagine. It’s the one that makes him feel the most excited and good about helping people.
As they grow, children learn about a huge range of activities in the world and realize that, to achieve the feeling they desire, firefighting is an inferior method to being a paramedic, a teacher, an entrepreneur, or an X-Games athlete. It’s not that we sell out on our dreams, it’s just that our dreams were crude representations of what we thought we wanted. When we learn more, we make different decisions. C.S. Lewis talks about the, “[I]gnorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
Once we learn what’s possible, we laugh at what we previously thought of as the ultimate achievement. This growth is all well and good until we confront people from our past who have us locked in to our previous dreams.
Sometimes people ask me when I’m going to be president, and no matter what answer I give, it seems to them like a cop-out or excuse for my own failure. They refuse to believe me when I say I wouldn’t wish political office on my worst enemy, let alone myself. They think I’m being modest.
I have a friend who went to Hollywood wanting to be an actor and now realizes his creative energies are far broader. People back home always want to know when they’ll see him on the big screen. We sometimes joke that someday, when he has millions and is producing, directing, writing and doing whatever he wants in life, his friends back home will say, “Haven’t seen you on TV…you just haven’t caught that break yet, huh?”
It can be a little weird to describe how and why your dreams and definitions of success change over time. A lot of people don’t actually want to know. They just want to know if you’re Governor yet, or an Oscar winning actor. That’s alright. Don’t fret over it and don’t spend too much energy trying to convince them you’re really not a failure. If they insist on defining success they way you did before you knew better, just let them think you’re a failure and laugh at the absurdity.
If I’m a failure for not being the silly thing I once wanted to be, it’s good to be a failure.