Throwback Edition: The Mental Evolution of "Success"

Plus, a brand new comic series, the most powerful music video of our time, and a senior volunteer program you should join

Dearest Readers,

As you open this email, I will be finishing up a two week, tech-free stint at a sleepaway writing camp for kids up in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I imagine you’ll be sitting at your desk, sipping a strong cup of coffee and perusing your Google calendar for the day’s Zoom meetings as I sit in a writing workshop of rising seniors, listening to their poems and their screen plays, reveling in their innocence and artistry; bug bites covering my legs, a tee-shirt cloaking my newly freckled shoulders. After an experience like the one I am currently living, I can imagine my definition of success will be even further evolved than it was when I initially wrote this essay last summer. I’ll be back with a new edition next week.

A Note From the Editor

A couple of weeks ago I was packing up my apartment when I came across my stack of old journals. I’ve been journaling consistently since 2010, and as a result, I’ve got 16 full notebooks documenting life since the start of college. I jokingly refer to them as my memoirs, my life’s work, the items(s) I’d retrieve from a burning building if I could only carry an armful of belongings. In truth, the entries are often trivial, or depressing, or simply ordinary, as large swaths of life tend to be.

I came across an entry I was looking for, one that I vaguely remember writing at an impressionable time in my life. I was 22, at the start of a new, lucrative career in the timeshare industry (that’s a story for another day), and while writing this particular entry I remember feeling empowered, bold, ready to steer the world it in whatever direction I saw fit. It was a list of goals, time-stamped “roughly 10 years” in the future (which would make me 32 at the time of fictional fruition), and as I read the entry in present-day, my mouth hung open:

  • A loving husband (I described him rather generically; smart, funny, ambitious, not smothering), who put a “fat rock on my finger”

  • Two kids, TWO MORE on the way (what?)

  • A large, elephant colored Mercedes (??)

  • A Goldendoodle

  • A giant house with lots of windows (in an undisclosed location)

I don’t know how else to describe reading this list, written by a person who was allegedly me, other than to say it was an out of body experience. It felt like an ironic splice of an SNL sketch about what a white woman thinks adulthood should look like, and I didn’t relate to it in the slightest. I hate driving, I’d prefer to never have a car again in my life. Four kids? The mention of a “fat rock”? I didn’t know whether to laugh or to be disgusted with myself. Remember, this was supposed to be my list of chief ambitions. There wasn’t a single goal on that list about helping other people, about influencing the world in any positive way, about self-realization or happiness. It was just a bunch of….stuff. And a bunch of kids to go along with my stuff.

Then I remembered a conversation I had when I first moved to New York, on a date with a man who was in his thirties (I was 25 at the time). When I prompted him about his goals, he said something along the lines of, “I don’t really think about them much anymore. I’ve reached my career goals, my financial goals, and to be honest, achieving them wasn’t life-changing.” I was flabbergasted, then repelled. I felt sorry for him. In my eyes he was directionless, and he was in his thirties so he’d obviously just given up. I vowed to never adopt that blasé mentality.

But reading that journal entry penned by 22-year-old-me, I finally get it. Goals aren’t meant to be stationary, nor do they need to be a neat little period at the end of a sentence. Just as crucial as goal-setting is adapting the ability to approach your goals with fluidity, allowing them to morph and transform with the person you grow into. At 27-years-old (for another two months, at least), I’m learning not to marry these versions of a “perfect future” I create in my mind. Because in truth, what I want now may no longer align with who I am when the future catches up with the present, and isn’t that the beauty of being an ever-evolving human being?

Cheers my dears, and thanks for reading. I’d love to hear about your personal evolution with goals and defining success. How do you set them, and how much weight do you give them? Have you ever reflected on the rigidity of past goals, only to find they were pigeonholing you?

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p.s., I’m VERY excited to introduce a brand new series for the month of July, by my talented friend. It’s called Holly’s Comic, and I think you’ll love it.

Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming:

  1. The Most Powerful Music Video of Our Time. The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks) are no strangers to making a political statement. The country trio spoke out against George W. Bush while he was still in office, causing them to get canceled even before “getting canceled” was an acknowledged thing. Well, they’re back, and this music video is bone-chilling and fiercely powerful. The first time I watched it, I cried. The second time, I felt ready to start making some campaign calls.

  2. A Heartfelt Essay on Love and Discovery. I’ve been thinking about this essay non-stop since I first read it— not actively, but like soft, constant background music in my mind. Our culture has a strange relationship with romantic endeavors, and it is often a simplified story: first, the honeymoon phase, when everything is perfect and you’re in love with a capital L, and then, if it works, marriagekidspotentialdivorce all jammed into the same breath. I love the ordinariness of this piece; how the author uncovers these intimate slices of her lover and flourishes in discoveries. Maybe these are the bones of our love for another person; their quirks, how they take their coffee, the way they look when they watch TV, even if those inconsequential things aren’t the parts we openly praise in a large format.

  3. In Hong Kong, Books Are Vanishing From Library Shelves. You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Hong Kong this week, and this article sums up the heart of the matter succinctly. Hong Kong was once a British colony and operated in a Democratic fashion. Then it became a part of China but continued to govern itself (referred to as “one country, two systems”) democratically. China’s been making power grabs at Hong Kong’s independence for years, and a sweeping new law bans particular books and teachings that don’t align with China’s values— i.e. the precise sort of restriction protesters in Hong Kong have been fighting against since 2014. Imagine being raised to think and speak and act freely, only to have those freedoms stripped away with the whole world silently watches.

Perhaps You Should…
Make a Call to Senior Citizens

A post shared by JASA (@jasaseniors)

Maybe you want to do something nice for someone else, or maybe you want a distraction from reality. Either way, if you’ve got some spare time and a cell phone, why not consider volunteering with JASA, an organization that helps senior citizens across New York get the things they need? Volunteers make weekly phone or video calls with seniors, and the impact of the program is said to be life-changing on both sides. Seniors report higher than average feelings of loneliness and isolation, and this is a simple, sweet opportunity to change that.

**Bonus Content** (A Poem About America)

This Tweet sums it up quite nicely, I think.

Holly’s Comic | A New Series for the Month of July

I’ve always loved comics, and the artistry of these little strips of joy never ceases to amaze me. When a friend mentioned she started to experiment with drawing comics during quarantine, I was inherently impressed— and when I finally saw her work, I was dazzled. Every week this month, my ultra-talented friend, Holly, (who doesn’t do this professionally and is currently drawing these entirely by hand) has agreed to create a comic just for the newsletter. It’s an honor to showcase her artistic aptitude, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Thoughts on Holly’s comic? Suggestions for a comic idea? Drop them in the comments below.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“Later that day she was introduced to the concept of walking

just for pleasure.”

-Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

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Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”