Now that I’ve temporarily relinquished my post as an academic automaton, I’ve been pouring over articles about self-empowerment, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship. I love hearing about success stories; they appeal to my competitive nature and get the gears going. I love the inner butterflies inspiration bring.
But my recent readings of success stories bring me to pause. One NYT article chronicles the rise of Pharell [insert mandatory swoon here] and how he cultivated a music and fashion empire. His philosophy entails long work hours, impeccable execution, and commitment to ambition because he knows he can get sh*t done. This week, I finally got around reading another NYT piece (obviously VPN works very well here) about the benefits of brutally honest self-assessments during moments of entrepreneurial failure. Then there were the countless blogs featuring amazing individuals and their audacity to walk the road less traveled. And like everyone on my Facebook newsfeed, I watched pep-talk from Kid-President (good for him!! I like Space Jam too).
Digesting all of this fuzzy goodness compelled me to fully explore my own notion of “success.” Before this trip, I just powered through work like a bullet train: nothingcanstopme, gottagetitdone. I am proud to say that I often complete the hardest journeys and receive the sweetest rewards. But I never really took the time to shape a philosophy behind such an intense work ethic. And when I do have a moment to ruminate on success, I always lament how limited my scope is — getting a job, having enough money to adventure in China, writing a bomb-ass policy memorandum. I’ve always wanted to expand such a narrow and materialistic definition to encompass things like cooking a meal, reading for pleasure, taking a walk, stretching. You know, stuff that make me feel more human.
Now that I’ve been given an opportunity to go buck-wild with my cooking, walking, stretching, and reading, I am reluctant to deviate from normal conceptions of successful living. I keep thinking, did Pharell take his precious time to read “The Alchemist” for fun? Or did he work his ass off so he could get that book published? And instead, I create a list of things — 2 Chinese articles, 4 nuclear policy articles, write a journal entry in Chinese, run 5 miles — so that I can continue my productivity streak and not stray from the standard path. Even at this very moment, I feel guilty for spending the last several hours thinking about and writing this blog instead of doing Chinese translations (At this rate, I’ll *never* learn Chinese). And then I feel guilty for feeling guilty. And then it becomes so meta I push it aside and watch a Taiwanese drama to distract myself temporarily.
Must I continue to sacrifice my potential as a human (as sister, daughter, lover, artist, woman) to maximize my potential as a human (i.e. the worker, the analyst, the breadwinner)? In a world that encourages success but strictly defines it for the purposes of social mobility, it is sometimes hard to tell which paths are right to take. Right not because they’re harder or will lead to money or influence, but right because they feel right.