How To be Successful
The definition of success is all wrong, is skewed and twisted and it's tricking humans everywhere into thinking that their lives are incomplete. Success is a bear trap in a forest overflowing with bears - everyone gets bitten. Ears prick up at the mention of it, it's a thirst that can't be quenched. A cut of meat so good, yet so expensive... and we all want a bite.
Here's what I've realised.
Society nurtured me into thinking that success was money, in all shapes and forms. Maybe it was a beautiful, well-kept house. Maybe it was waking up every morning without a worry in how you are going to pay your bills, provide for yourself and your family. Success was soft fabric wrapped around my skin, that whispered: "Don't you want me?"
Success is a carefully woven web, designed to trap and motivate you into a life spent wanting that next thing. Success is approval of the masses, success is being pretty enough, sexy enough. But don't worry - if you weren't born that way, like most of us weren't; you can always buy, buy, buy. Work, consume, work, die.
It all started dawning on me a year ago, after a break-up. I'd felt unhappy, unfulfilled. I'd assumed this was down to the relationship being a wrong fit, so I left. My life was maths, and I deducted the odd number and thought I'd be left with something positive, something even.
But I wasn't.
My life revolved around my work, the Sun to my Earth. More than that, money was the gravity that made it all go. "Just take this job" I thought, and things will grow, and change and evolve and be better. And so, I made a decision to quit. I wanted OFF. I wanted OUT. Since I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my life, as I had so many reasons to be happy, I figured the only way was to throw my life out of the window and start from scratch.
Here's what I did.
1) I moved in with my parents.
Having wonderful parents who didn't ask me to pay rent while I stayed with them helped me hugely. It gave me a few months to work out what I was doing with myself, where I wanted to go. Financial pressures and commitments are some of the heaviest weights you can take on during your journey, and I would highly recommend against them. Success isn't your living situation. Drop your pride, screw the postcode. Imagine being able to live for free, or very little... appealing, huh?
2) I stopped taking on any paid work.
This was tough, because money is nice because you can buy things and do things. But I needed to let it go... my days were filled with computer screens with emotionless emails, chore after chore. I felt chained to my clients because they'd offered me money, I was bound by needing to have a good reputation... because successful photographers don't get bad reviews. Successful photographers make everyone happy, every client is the most important client in the world - no matter what time of night, no matter whether I'm crying from my break-up, no matter whether I'm wondering whether maybe life just isn't meant for me. It didn't matter if the skies were blue and the air blew warm against my skin, if gold fields beckoned, because I Am Successful. Don't you think I'm successful?
3) I remembered what I loved.
At first, when I made the decision to stop earning money, I was daunted by the empty days that lay ahead of me. My instinct with nothing to do was to be productive, organize a workshop or do some client work. But with nothing ahead of me, I forced my guilty self to make plans. Fun, I planned fun. It had been a while since I remembered what fun was to me - here's the list I made in the blog post I wrote at the time.
"Going for a walk
Going to the gym
Putting music on and just enjoying it for a while
Looking out of the window without feeling guilty for not being productive
Shooting personal work which I enjoy
Stroking my new hair growth
Cuddling my cat"
Turns out, there is even way more fun stuff to do that even those things. I started to guzzle documentaries on space, wanting to know about my place in the Universe. What am I here to do? I'm pretty sure I wasn't given the incredible ability to perceive everything around me just so I could pay bills all my life.
My life turned. I wasn't successful, I was alive. I was running through the streets at 2am with rain hitting my face and violins booming in my ears. I was drunk, dancing and spinning and tapping my silver shoes, as I kissed a handsome stranger on a handsome street. I was soaking my mind in a bath, while my emails built up and up and up. I was devouring poetry and learning that the world was just as alive as my mind, while my phone buzzed and beeped. I ignored it. You can't buy me anymore, I don't want your money. I don't need your money. I need my time. I don't need to be successful.
I was driving with the windows down, exhaling carbon dioxide as song. I was learning to dance in my living rooms, while the neighbours looked on. I was free from the dungeon that had been unlocked all along.
And one day, after months of living, I broke down. It was my first ever happiness break down. I had gone to McDonalds to get some lunch, windows down and music up, as usual. The girl at the drive through looked at me, and smiled. She said, "Hey, it's you! Happy girl! You're everyone's favourite customer here. We love it when you come by." And I smiled inside and out. I loved seeing them, too. A lovely bunch of people, just trying to get by.
I got my food, and started driving back home. The sunlight was hitting my eyes in that way that it did, time was slipping by the way it did, and all of a sudden I just felt overwhelmed with love and pride. I was Happy Girl. I'd made it, I was finally the person I wanted to be all along. I parked up outside my cheap apartment in the cheap beautiful countryside, and broke down. I cried the way I'd cried a year before, broken and alone. But this time, I was crying with pure, pure joy. There aren't words to describe it. I wanted to drive back and hug that girl.
This is how to be successful.
Forget the money. Forget the likes, forget the beautifully decorated house in the countryside. Throw your life out of the window and start again. Because you only get one youth, one life, one chance at it all. There is space next to me for you in the grassy fields filled with gold, and I know this, because when I lie there as the sun is going down, no one is next to me. I always wonder where everyone is at 3am and the stars are white on an ocean of wonder.
But maybe they're too busy being successful.