Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

The details of success

“What’s your livelihood?” the nice man behind the counter asked me.  Livelihood.  Really?  The very word makes it sound like I should be wearing a pointed party hat and brandishing one of those noisemakers that unfurl a little flag while I do what I do.  I don’t.  Livelihood indeed.


The truth of the matter is that I am a music instructor by day, teaching piano, voice and the finer points of the circle of fifths (nothing like Dante’s nine circles of his inferno, but just as maddening for some students).  By morning and midday I write, some for pay and some for play (some stuff just begs to be written down whether other people want to read it or not).  By night I turn into Chief Cook & Bottle-washer in my house.  I wear a lot of hats, but none of ‘em of the party variety.


With a soon-to-be high school graduate wandering the halls of my home, there is a lot of talk about careers, life goals and what it means to be a success.  Once upon a time I used the model of powerful, wealthy people as the yardstick of what I thought someone who was successful to be.  Time has taught me otherwise.  It seems that true success is in the centimeter markings barely visible on the overall measuring device I once used.


There is a rather antiquated phrase that once described wealth as “living comfortably”.  I dunno.  Some of the mega-wealthy seem like some mighty uncomfortable folk, like that Donald Trump and his permanent scowl.  It could be that he’s just constantly thinking of new and clever ways to earn more money or maybe better hiding places for what he’s got, but all that frowning certainly doesn’t radiate coziness.  Even his hair silently shrieks the opposite of contentment.


On the other hand, I also see how the opposite end of the money spectrum works against the pursuit of comfort, too.  All across the landscape of this great country you see the worried faces of those who struggle from a lack of even adequate finances.  When there is never enough to pay housing, utilities, medical bills and the expenses of just living … it’s a pretty uncomfortable situation to be in.


There are a thousand and one dogmas on what mankind needs to find inner peace and achieve success in a lifetime, but I believe the secret is in the lifetime it takes to figure it all out.  The writings of the wise are certainly helpful along the way, but that Shrek (the big green ogre) had a pretty simple analogy that fits: it’s like an onion.  Life is.  Layers upon layers of living peel away new revelations that help you understand what makes you happy or feel like what you’ve done (or continue to do) is successful.  What you perceive to be the pinnacle of life when you’re 18 or 25 years old doesn’t always turn out to be the same location when you’re 35, 45 or older.  Truth is the map of your life goals is a bit like a persnickety GPS system that keeps changing your route with unplanned detours that ultimately alter your original destination.  Frustrating as the thought may be to one just starting out, it’s not the landing that determines success, it’s the looking back – the assessment of it all – that reveals whether or not triumph was truly yours.


We’ve seen the bumper stickers, plaques and platitudes of those at the pearly gates not wishing they’d spent another day at the office or saying what matter in life isn’t your car or bank account but being important in the life of a child.  Nice statements overall, but just not so.  Trust me there are plenty of people who really do wish they’d spent one more day at the office with their boots on and a computer mouse gripped in their hand.  Lots of other folks don’t care whether they amounted to a hill of beans in the life of any child and they wrinkle their noses at the repugnant thought. 


Nope.  There is no simple recipe for what spells success at the end of your… livelihood.  But that party hat idea is starting to sound pretty good to me.  In fact, I think I’m going to put one on my computer monitor or on top of my piano just to see if it livens things up a bit … or at the very least, reminds me to enjoy the journey.  After all, some other smart person (and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Shrek) once said, “Success is in the details.”

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