On my Pinterest board labeled “Just for Laughs” i have a great meme. It’s a picture of the Milky Way. Near the center is a small arrow with the words You are here just below it. It is a reminder to me that, no matter how important each crisis seems, in the grand scheme of things, it is merely dust.
Over the years, i have sent that meme to many people. Friends and acquaintances who are overwhelmed with work, family, or just the day to day of everyday life. Meetings, deadlines, appointments, bills, obligations, politics, illness, aging… Adult life is fraught with reasons to stress. And each day we are bombarded with more. Realistically, most of these anxieties aren’t sentinel choices. Yet we worry over them as if they all are. I wonder why.
Far too many of us are pumping out the cortisols because we feel pushed to gain power at work. We must come early. We must stay late. We must get it all done, on time, perfectly, and then some. At the expense of family dinners and ballgames and recitals and relaxation. Because we are worth nothing if we are not a wealthy boss who runs the world. I’m not sure where the idea came from. When it became more important to succeed at at work than to succeed at life.
We stress over our looks. Too fat. Too old. Too ugly. Too bland. The pressure to look perfect is real. But as Cindy Crawford once said, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.” Yet, without those looks or that Photoshop, we don’t think we make the cut. We feel so unworthy that, when joining dating sites, we lie about our age, post pictures from the best body of our lives (decades ago), and hope to God that they don’t notice we lied when we meet them. Because we think we’re not worthy of being met as we are. Why? Who’s opinion is so all-powerful that without it, we are nothing?
We aren’t the CEO, so we failed at business. We owe money, so we fail at providing. We have pooches, so we failed at body. We let our kids eat McNuggets, so we’ve failed at parenting. We are 50 and look it, so we failed at beauty. We failed. At everything.
That is how it feels sometimes.
Those arbitrary standards… Where did they come from? I mean, yes, we all know that the media puts it out there, but we don’t have to buy it. Regardless of what we see on TV and the movies, we aren’t required to accept the notion that we are losers because we aren’t rolling in the dough. Or dating Halle Berry. Or running the free world. We don’t have to accept those notions any more than we must accept the notions of talking dinosaurs, altruistic politicians, or zombie apocalypse.
My friends, especially those of you who are stretched so tight that you feel you’re about to break, it’s time to ditch the media benchmarks and come up with a new definition of success. Things that improve the tiny speck that is your position in the universe. I’ll bet if you sat down and made a list of all the things that prove you haven’t failed, you might surprise yourself. Not just because you are able to make a list, but because of what the items on that list have in common.
You have raised weedlings who will share their lunch with someone who has none. You organize meals when a friend has surgery. You smile and talk with people who look lonely. You always put change in the Veterans’ collection cans. You’ve managed to stay mostly happily married for over a decade. Or two. Or more. You give out the good candy at Halloween. You bake for your coworkers. You compliment little old ladies. You make people smile, even when you don’t feel like smiling yourself. And someone, somewhere, feels better because they know you.
Those things are harder to measure than dollars or titles or pounds, but they are the energies that real success is built on.
Yes, money, fame, power… those things impact the people around you in a measurable concrete way. But they don’t send ripples thru the universe like love can. Or kindness. Or positivity. Those are the things that change outlook, and, therefore, actions. Those little existential protons are the building blocks of the good life. They compound themselves until they extend far beyond this third rock from the sun and become something glorious.
So tell a child something good you notice about them. Help the elderly carry their groceries. Volunteer for your cause. Share what you have. Make someone smile. And then later, when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, lost… Look to the center of the ripples you’ve created… And say to yourself, “You are here”