How we define success for ourselves, personally and professionally, often determines our direction in life. Our careers, attitudes towards material wealth, and general priorities all revolve around the goals we set.
When it comes to goal setting and reaching, it’s really easy to just think of major events like graduation or landing a good job. While either of these examples of admirable, they are merely the end result of a bunch of sequential actions and accomplishments which led to them. The difference is that this forward motion – “baby steps” one might say – is often ignored on the way to the big prize.
Most people who can ride a bike remember when the training wheels came off for the first time. Likely, this move towards independence was celebrated with kudos from relatives. Maybe a picture or two were snapped as you rode down the street on two wheels for the first time. Something so important in our growth, but also a common experience amongst children. Yet much hoopla surrounds it.
And then as we get older, things change. We’re no longer cute little kids looking up to the adults in our lives with our tooth-missing smiles. The little triumphs we experience start to become less of a big deal. So we start to eye loftier goals, in the hopes of winning the almighty approval from our parents, peer groups, and ultimately from society. Sorts trophies, getting into university, and eventually making it in the corporate world become the end goals of a competitive world.
Here is where a level of marginalization occurs. There are many who have challenges making it difficult for one to attain a higher education, great job, nice home, and all the trappings that come with middle class life. In other words, people who are already marginalized due to social class, mental and physical challenges, and economic circumstances, at some point come to the realization that they cannot keep up with what they perceive is expected of them. These are people with a lot to offer, but it is too often overlooked.
On the flip side, sometimes people walk away from a comfortable life to pursue what they consider to be more important goals. These are the ones who go into humanitarian work, social activism, or even just living a scaled-back lifestyle at a slower pace for enjoyment and health, rather than the pursuit of money and power. Unfortunately, growing one’s own food, organizing an anti-war demonstration, or working for a charitable organization just isn’t held in as high esteem as being the CEO of a corporation and living in a luxury condo.
Milestones don’t have to equal money or achievement. They can be simple things, like making someone else smile. They can be personal – one does not always advertise that they have made it for a month without taking a drink. Or, they can be moments shared with important people in our lives. Birthdays and anniversaries don’t really matter to anyone outside of one’s immediate social circle anyways.
It isn’t wrong to want to “make it,” whatever making it means to you. Celebrate everything that life has to offer. Make a journal of your journey, so you can at least record your daily steps to read back at a later time in order to judge your progress. Sure, there will be big moments to share. But don’t ignore everything that happens along the way. Our “training wheels” will have to come off at many points in life, under various circumstances. Celebrate these moments and milestones.
Paula E. Kirman learned how to ride a bicycle as a teenager. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.