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Successfully Failing

What really is the measure of success?

There is something fundamentally wrong with life today; when a person can have everything they always wanted and yet still feel like a failure in the eyes of society.

Ever since my school days when I first started to think about how I wanted my life to be, I dreamt of being something of a hermit, living in the countryside and being a writer.

I did my time in the city, hating the corporate life, but believing that one day, if I worked hard enough, I’d be able to achieve my country dream.

But the harder I worked and the more I sacrificed, the more distant my dream seemed to become. I had always put off my dream because it seemed too risky—no one makes a living being a writer or artist. Then one day, I realized I was already struggling and trying to make end's meet in the city, so why not be a struggling writer in the country where I longed to be? So I gave up the city life and moved to the country just over 18 months ago. A decision I should have made years ago.

So here I am. I’m 43, and for all intents and purposes, I have achieved my dream. I live in a small town in rural New Zealand, in a spacious house with a big garden, similar to the one I grew up in that held many happy memories, surrounded by farms and bush. I spend my days writing, creating crafts, and painting, and going for walks among the paddocks and bush. It’s not a life of luxury, but it is the life I dreamed of. I should feel proud of myself, yet I feel like a fraud—you see things are not all as they seem. Though I “work from home” as an editor, work is so sparse it’s close to non-existent. I do spend my days writing and creating, but I am yet to make any significant income from these. I rely on financial support and a disability allowance and so despite having everything I ever wanted, I feel like a failure.

I shy away from social situations because I hate having to answer the inevitable questions about what I’m doing now. I feel so ashamed that though I portray myself as self-employed, in reality I’m just a welfare beneficiary.

This is a conundrum that I struggle to make peace with. On the one hand, I have everything I ever wanted: a lovely home, the country ideal I dreamed of, and time to create. I should feel the epitome of success. Yet by society’s standards, I feel I am a failure because I am not able to support myself. And let’s not add in the fact that I’m still single, never married and have no children—something that makes me a bit of a social outcast.

I have other attributes that make me a success in my mind. I’m kind, compassionate, loyal, gentle, sensitive, have great empathy, and am a deep thinker. Yet none of those can earn me a single dollar. I’m mildly attractive, but not trendy or outgoing and have health issues that limit me physically, so again by society’s standards, I feel I’m a failure. I have little value; to the majority of suitable men, I’m not a ‘catch.’

Why should my ability to make an income be used as a measure of my success? Why should be it that my marital status and child-bearing ability should be the measure of my social success?

Surely it is only ourselves that can measure our own success? And surely that measure should not be monetary or social, but rather fulfillment. If one feels content and fulfilled in one’s life, then surely that is the ultimate success. 

I look at my bank statement and look at the social service payments and my head fills with thoughts of failure. This wasn’t the life I was meant to have. I was meant to be something. I see my friends with their partners and children and I feel a pang of sadness that I don’t have a family of my own.

But then I go for a walk, breathing in the clean country air, listening to the bird song, petting the horses I see along the way and think to myself how fulfilled I feel and that I must be the luckiest person in the world. How can that possibly make me a failure?

I am content and fulfilled; something many people never feel in the entire lives despite monetary and social successes. I think makes me more successful than most.