My parents’ success checklist included that their son and daughter both become successful which for them meant that we become doctors – which we did. Education and success in the traditional sense were impressed upon us and took precedence over anything else including creativity, friendships, lifestyle balance, and exercise.
20 years later my sister and I have succeeded in our careers as doctors. During this process the nuclear family of us 4 completely disintegrated mostly because the focus was on education, earning a high income, and later advancing one’s career.
There Is Always The Next Level
After achieving doctorate level degrees the next emphasis was on work and earning money. If more work meant earning more money then it was important to do so. It wasn’t about earning more money to become financially independent or to pursue a dream.
Spending a high income on luxury cars, a fancy home in an enviable neighborhood, wearing nice clothes, and traveling to expensive destinations were all given the green flag – those met every success checklist of our household.
My sister eventually married and had some kids and then I got married. She moved away and then I moved away. My parents sort of held things together but that family unit was no longer there. As adults both me and my sister changed a lot as individuals in this phase of life do.
Sacrificing The Family Unit
It wasn’t that we didn’t get along as a nuclear family. I had the kind of childhood that most would dream of. No violence, no substance issues, no psychiatric problems, no abuse. Plenty of positive attention, love, and all the resources I ever needed.
But my parents believed that ticking the items on the success checklist were more important than the family unit. Perhaps to make sure that we achieved and maintained success long after they would be gone.
They also assumed and hoped that after we each go off to carve out our piece of the pie we’d come back and all settled down near each other and resume the lives we left off 2 decades prior.
Fairy tales end that way but real life is a little more complicated. Our priorities, our tolerance, our lifestyle criteria, our jobs, our friends, and our personalities all drift a couple of standard deviations away and rarely in the same direction as other distant family members.
Now we are successful, we are rich, we are healthy, we have done the marriage thing, my sister has done the procreation thing, and so we are by definition successful, right?
Don’t Blame it on Medicine
Each of us has our own success checklist and unfortunately it’s not just for our own lives, we also presume to know exactly what success for others should look like.
When you put so much effort into something. When every moment of living is about that end-goal of being a doctor or wealthy or famous then there is nothing else left to blame but that pursuit.
I look back and I tip my hat to my MD degree. I get it, it’s a big deal. One could argue that I am just an ungrateful POS and had I not obtained that MD degree then I’d end up on the street corner sucking off homeless dudes for a cigarette butt.
If my entire life was built on the premise that success is a professional degree or dependent on the square-footage of my home or living in a zip code starting with 0 then I certainly would have hit rock bottom if I didn’t achieve those metrics.
Maybe sometime down the road without ever getting an MD degree I would discovered for myself that none of that matters. Or maybe I would have just wallowed in self-pity until an addiction or a disease put me out of my misery. Who knows.
The SUccess Checklist
If you’ve been reading my posts then you know that I am living the shit out of my life. If I get crushed by an anvil tomorrow or eaten by a Komodo Dragon then I’ll have lived the best last couple of years that anyone can imagine.
But it’s helpful to look back, not for me, but maybe for my readers. For some of you who are pushing your kids towards your own definition of success and for those who are still working on their personal success checklist.
I started college with a net worth of zero and had never experienced stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts. 8 years later I found myself on an antidepressant with waves of suicidality, panic attacks, nightmares, a $200,000 debt, and with very few friends. Certainly no family since I gave that up long ago.
I am now debt free.
I don’t have panic attacks anymore.
I don’t wet the bed at night from panic attacks.
I don’t take antidepressants and don’t have a shot of gin just to brave the hospital rounds. Oh, and I barely practice medicine these days. I’ve come full fucking circle except I gave up quite a few of my friends and my family in the process.
This post isn’t meant to just be a gloomy reflection but life repeats itself doesn’t it? Many of us repeat the same mistakes with just different circumstances, in different places, with different people.
My Own Success Checklist
What I’ve written so far wasn’t meant as criticism of my parents. They had their own reasons to emphasize success the way they did. They spent their youth coming up with their own success checklist which happened to involve 2 accomplished kids in the medical field.
Now that I’m 39 I got my own success checklist. That’s right, I’m all grown up now:
- I want to be an amazing rock climber
- I want to have a gorgeous home in the mountains
- I want to have millions in my bank account
- I want to be desired by the opposite sex
- I want to have the perfect partner who matches me in every way
- I want to invent amazing things
- I want to be a famous author
- I want the kind of blog that people can’t stop talking about
- I want to open a really successful and popular business
- I want to live with perfect health well into my 90’s
- I want to be an amazing chef
- I want to read every book that I come across
- I want a penthouse in downtown Vancouver, Canada
- I want custom-made furniture and high-tech gadgets
Those are a few of the items on my success checklist.
They pop up and I keep having to smack them down because those don’t describe my real definition of success – they have been placed there by ad agencies, shitty teachers over the years, parents, friends, society, and my own insecurities.
Success checklists don’t make much sense to me anymore because whatever success checklist item I’ve achieved there was always another. Success in fact is the next hardest level and pretty much the opposite of whatever the fuck I am right now.
I am kind of happy with what and who I am right now. I don’t want to achieve success whether it’s someone else’s definition of success or my own weird mind-fuck from that list above.
It’s a shame to see a good unit fall apart when it wasn’t the unit but the divergent goals of each member that broke up that unit.
It’s sad to see a guy step out on a good relationship because he wanted to fuck around with another woman. It’s sad to see a woman step out on a relationship because she wasn’t happy with the level of the lifestyle. It’s sad to see parents riding their kids because those kids aren’t mirroring the success checklist of the parents.
2 decades later I’m scratching my head wondering what the shit all that was about. With each member of my nuclear family scattered geographically and neither of us identifying with what we assumed success was, it makes me doubt that I ever achieved anything worth calling success.