As I have journeyed across the “official” mid-life line, known as my forties, I have had a chance to take a look back on my life so far. It isn’t one of those so-called crisis times where I wish I had more, or had something else. It is more of one of those periods where I have a chance to take a look at myself and see how much I have changed. More importantly it is the opportunity to really take a look at what I define as being successful in life. Since I have four decades under my belt, I thought I might break it in a decade by decade fashion to see what I measure success in my life was or still is.
Decade 1: Years 1-10
This is more conjecture than anything else. After all this was about forty years ago. I would say that in my early years my prime motivation for success was staying out of trouble. As my sister and I grew up and got closer to ten, it was obvious that my father and, in a different way, my mother had an abusive streak. For my father it was physical. I am sure that there were times where the punishment he would dole out might be deserved. However, as we got older that punishment, particularly on my younger sister, seemed a bit extreme at times. The abuse that was given by my mother would be far more subtle and would increase in intensity in the next decade, but the seeds were planted here. She made it clear that no matter how hard I tried, I would never really amount to much. No matter how good I did in school, or how much I was proud of something I did, it was either inconsequential, or it was simply not good enough. So, success in this environment was to simply be able to stay under their radar.
Decade 2: Years 11-20
This time in my life would be some of the most painful I had ever experienced, and would spill over somewhat into the next decade. In the early to middle part of the decade, my aim was to continually seek that elusive approval from my parents. It was a futile effort, but it certainly gave me my undying drive to succeed that I carry with me today. A major event happened as I turned 17, that would change my course forever. My father walked out on his family. He ran off with another woman. That alone would leave its mark on me later in my own relationships, even today. I was left as the only man in the house with two women and a lot of pent-up rage from my mother and my sister. The event had driven them closer, but galvanized them against me. That made my course of action immediate. I had to leave, and that meant going to college as far away from home as possible.
College life was less about study, and more about finding those relationships that would fill the void I was missing with my dysfunctional family. I certainly found that, but my studies certainly suffered. After being a spectacular student in high school, I slipped badly off the grid in college. I was barely a ‘C’ student, and didn’t even graduate. My romantic life was rocky at best during this period too. That was too be expected, given the incredibly inadequate example I had lived in my early life. Needless to say, there was a good amount of heartache there as my stunted relationship skills buckled under this challenge. The measure of success was gained through a lot of trial and error in these years, and I feel that this decade really defined me going forward. I found my ability to get close to others in this decade, after closing myself off in my early years. That was my measure of success, but it sure opened me up to lots of pain too.
Decade 3: Years 21-30
Much like the current month of March, this decade came in like a lion, and ended up going out like a lamb. The decade started out with me coming home with my tail between my legs, as the first woman I was going to marry left me at the altar (yeah I could write a whole post about that one too). The environment I returned to had not changed. If anything my mother and my sister were even more vile to me. It was during these years that I did fall in love again, and would marry this time. However, in this period my measure of success was driving up the corporate ladder, and making lots of money. That drive proved too much for her to compete with, and she left me. Two sucker punches in the love arena. Yeah that one was hard to take. In the middle of the decade things would finally start to look up. I would meet the ACTUAL love of my life, and get married. I resolved that this time around, things had to change. Success now would be making my relationships work.
Decade 4: Years 31-40
This decade just closed for me, and it has been like a golden age in my life. This is the decade I was introduced to fatherhood. Sure there have been set backs, like a stinging loss of a career. However, the positives outweigh these negatives by such a wide margin that it isn’t even worth focusing on. That’s where it really has changed for me. Money, while nice to have, is not my driving force anymore. Career, while a nifty thing to be proud of, isn’t either. For me, the measure of my success now, is being the best husband, and father I can possibly be. To me everything else is completely secondary to that goal. So, I guess the measure of success for me during this period was to write past wrongs in my personal life, and to make sure that I was a far better spouse and parent than my own parents had been. I leave that to my wife and children to decide if that has been achieved or not.
Decade 5: Years 41-
Given how great decade 4 closed out, I am really thinking some great things are going to happen for me during this time.
I think personal introspection is a great tool. However, you cannot live in the past. Once it is done it is done. Everything that has happened in my life has put me here in this time, with my family. Sure some of it has been painful, and distasteful, but were it not for those times, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today. So, with that in mind, it might be cliché, but I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the true measure of success in my mind.
- What is your idea of success? (johnskelton077.wordpress.com)
- Holding on to the Moments. (amissapitter.wordpress.com)
- Measuring Up (1smallgirl.wordpress.com)
- Looking in the mirror at mid-life (donaldphelps.wordpress.com)