Have you ever noticed, that the most popular real life writing is all about success? We seek mentors who have been there, done that and overcome the odds. But life doesn't always tie up in a neat little ribbon, and there is no "happily ever after" because life goes on, a new chapter opens and we find new challenges waiting when the sun rises (As it's been known to do after setting) Sometimes we find ourselves facing the same challenges again and again, ones we thought we'd conquered or new twists on the old problem, or brand new out-of-the-blue obstacles that we find ourselves backpedaling to adjust our course and consider how to address, let alone conquer.
Can we conquer the new obstacles? Absolutely.
I've found that a community of understanding, sympathetic, been there done that kind of folks is really, really helpful in getting through the first hurdles of any challenge. And reading about success is instrumental in envisioning a path toward one's own success and generating hope. But what about problems that don't tie up in a bow? There is no end. While I may manage my food allergies/intolerances, they will always be with me. And I'll have my ups and downs, good days and bad days, frustrating moments when I lose several promising foods, offset by elation from people asking for a recipe after a party.
The same is true for mental health issues. Anxiety and depression are ever present shadows, sometimes made invisible by the noon-day sun, and sometimes chased away by bright lights and loud music, but always ready to slip out and surprise you when you least expect them. Their impact can range from a startled moment to catch your breath to an all out run-for-your life kind of fear.
In other words, sometimes success isn't really a thing. You might have more successes than failures, but that doesn't mean that you're done. Problem solved. Waltz off into the sunset without a care in the world.
We're all in the middle of a journey, and that journey will have ups and downs. There's no doubt that there is value in hearing about the successes. Knowing that others have those ups in their lives gives the rest of us hope and guidance. But what about the downs? Maybe it's just as important to hear something of the downs, so that we don't feel quite so alone. In fact, maybe it's more important to hear about the lows so that we aren't stuck holding ourselves up to unrealistic expectations of never ending successes.
Sometimes life is hard. That's true whether you have physical or emotional challenges, whether your challenges cross the line into disability status or are considered run of the mill (though no less valid or challenging). When things get hard, remember that you aren't alone. Success isn't defined by lack of challenges. It's just a part of the journey. Success means you don't have regrets at the end of the day, that you treat people well and did the best you could in each situation. Ideally, your life will be full of many successes. But no matter how many successes you enjoy, challenges will be present, too. And they are just as important to share as the success stories. Maybe moreso.
As the year draws to a close, I'm feeling inadequate. But only because there are so many challenges we are revisiting or still looking to overcome. I'm reminding myself that I'm not imperfect, but perfectly imperfect. And if at times my struggles are more apparent than my successes, well, that's only because I'm at a rocky part of my journey. That will pass, and what matters isn't the struggle so much as the way I address it and work through it.
In the new year, my goal is goig to be balance. Rather than struggling with an unachievable "success", I'm going for a positive outlook. More favorable outcomes than not, more light than dark, and a recognition that the challenges are just as important as the wins.