The criteria for measuring success
There are expectations – family’s, society’s, our own – all of which change hugely over time. There are qualifications, the weight of which also change over time. But essentially there’s the dawning realisation that, for a nice middle-class girl like me with the world as my oyster and the sort of parents who ‘just want me to be happy’, I might have to judge success by my own happiness and satisfaction. Yet those are the slipperiest criteria of all. Can I not just add up my bank balance, GCSEs, carbon footprint, waist size, number of emails in the inbox and portions of fruit and vegetables consumed per day and get some sort of success rating? No, we’ve got to do this the hard way. First let’s see what I’ve got:
I manage to get the washing done, to keep myself clean most of the time, to cook pretty decent meals (I know this because telly tells me what awful food a lot of people eat, and I eat better than they do), to get up in the morning and put myself to bed in time to have a reasonable amount of sleep.
I’m never bored. I always have more to do than I have time to do, and I definitely consider that a sort of success, although I also feel like it’s a bit of a failure that I don’t get things done that I want to.
I have, by virtue of my job, some power. Some places want to impress me so I write about them, other people want to impress me so I buy their pitches, words or photography. (It’s someone else’s money I’m spending, though, so is it someone else’s power I’m drunk on?)
I have an interesting life – I live on a boat, which is the sort of thing I would have really envied for all of my life up until it became reality. It gives me some kudos, which feels a lot like success, as I get to be a talking point quite often.
I have a boyfriend. We’ve been together for seven years, which is surely a success, although I rarely remember to think about it quite like that. I do sometimes remember that I could never spend as much time on a tiny boat with anyone as I do with him, and get on so successfully.
I recycle most stuff; I’m pretty good with leftovers; I have a general idea about where the power lies in the world and I boycott a few companies and donate to a few charities. I care! I have principles!
I’ve ticked most of the boxes as I went along. I’ve managed to amass the necessary qualifications and also some wild tales of youth.
I have lots of love. Because I keep quite clean, have an interesting life and some principles? I’m quite fun to be around, sometimes; I’m quite persuadable, so I’ll often do what people want me to do. A lot of the people who love me are my family – I come from the sort of family that loves each other very much – it’s not really an option.
I clearly have a pretty healthy ego. I’m spending 474 words explaining the things about me that I’m pleased with, assuming I’m either interesting enough, or that my writing is good enough, that you’ll keep on reading. Oh God, I hope you are? I do have crises of confidence about writing, but often think of Carrie Bradshaw’s fictional column in Sex and the City, which was such dross that, even though it’s fictional, it makes me feel better by comparison.
And failures? No space for dinner parties; I don’t have my own website yet; the scarf I was knitting Rhys for Christmas 2006 isn’t finished and is a funny shape. I really should be a vegetarian; I can’t keep pot plants alive; I’m a bit too snacky, which looks like a lack of self-control to me; I’m out of shape (not so bad if I only compare myself to fatter people). I’m not really as informed as I want to be about anything; I don’t phone my sister enough and I shop in Tesco for the convenience far more that I want to.
So there we are – a snapshot of my life just before 30, and the successes and failures as I see them. But someone else could read this list and think, ‘How pathetic! Fancy considering being good with leftovers a success! Where’s the yacht? Where’s the Swiss bank account?’ And someone else – in fact, myself in the past – might be happy with half of that inventory. Is a scale of success constructed of elements – pressures, desires, values – that are so personal it’s pretty much meaningless to try to compare or quantify?