Monday, February 13, 2012

What is your definition of success?

At one time in my life, I thought I was successful because I was married to a pretty nice guy, had three children, and lived in a big house on a hill overlooking a pretty farm valley. My son was in 4-H and Little League. The girls were in Girl Scouts and ballet lessons. I enjoyed my motherly roles as troup leader, score keeper and driver as well as occasional farm hand for my husband. We had everything we needed, lots of toys, and traveled every year.

Later, that fairy tale fell apart, but I quickly found a way to redefine success for myself. I was a single mom with two kids still at home but I was finally fulfilling my dream of going to college. I was a junior with a 3.9 GPA, President of the Honors Student Association, Chief Justice of the Student Judiciary, and was considering applying to Stanford Law School.

The thing is, I never could picture myself dressed in business clothes, working in some big office building, in cut-throat competition with others for advancement. I knew I would hate it if I found myself in that situation. So when I realized that my daughters would pass their last few years at home looking for their mom in the law library, I realized that I just couldn't do it. Although I found the law very interesting, I have always been an artist at heart. 

I'm not real picky about what kind of art I am creating, but I have to be creating to be happy. At different times in my life I've become obsessed with papier mache, macrame, drawing, painting, photography, embroidery. You name it, I had done it. When I went to college, I made myself stay away from those art classes. I wanted to learn something new and different. But I was able to satisfy my need to create through writing. I loved all those writing assignments for my classes!  I also wrote for a small-town newspaper and various newsletters, and did some freelance work passed onto me by my professors.

Anyway, when I informed my Honors advisor that I had decided to open a quilt shop after graduation instead of going to law school, to say that he was upset is quite an understatement. At the same time, his reaction shocked me! The last time that a man screamed at me that I was making a huge mistake that would ruin my life was when I informed my father that I was going to move in with my boyfriend right after I turned 18. My advisor (and friend) started throwing statistics at me about how often women were right on the verge of huge success when they got cold feet and backed out of whatever the challenge might be.  When he finally calmed down enough to listen to me, I tried to explain that what he wanted for me was his version of success, not mine.  He didn't want to listen, but once I make up my mind, it's a done deal.

So, by the time I graduated (with Distinguished Honors) I had already opened my quilt shop.  Over the next 8 years, I made hundreds of quilts and taught quilting classes to thousands of students. I did custom machine quilting for quilters from all over the US, and I sold art quilts through a cooperative gallery.  I worked 60-80 hours a week - half of that time at home with the kids - and I loved every minute of it!  I didn't make a lot of money, but I was very happy doing what I did.  To me, that was success!!!

Fortunately, I also invested well the money I did make, and everything else came together just right to allow me to retire at 50 and move, first to Japan and then to Mexico. I have two homes - one near a lake in the central highlands and one in a fishing village at the beach.  I can can live happily on very little money and have enough left over each year to allow me to travel .  After 20 years of being alone, I find myself in the best relationship of my life.  I'm happy and healthy and financially OK. Now this seems like success to me!

I would love to hear your success stories...

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