Do you ever have an identity crisis? In a dream the other night, I couldn’t get anywhere because I had lost my driver’s license. I woke in confusion. Who am I and what am I doing?
It was a strange dream, easily interpreted, and it has been haunting me. For the last twenty years, I was proud to call myself a sculptor. Achieving success in the visual art realm was the most important thing in life. Some time ago, I was sitting at the breakfast table and vowing that I was going to make it. My husband looked at me and laughed. “Honey, you already did,” he said.
In that moment, my ambition screeched to a halt. Literally. I could hear the brakes of my heart. He was right and it was terrifying. The only thing I could think of was what do I do now? Fortuitously, we had just acquired a new business and it consumed the majority of my energy for a while. It also veered me so far off track that my galleries and clients started to wonder if I was still alive. At the time, that was debatable.
Now, a few years later and more or less stable, I am heading in yet another direction. It is more exciting than anything I have done in years. Yes, I’m talking about writing and it is wonderful. Most of my creative energy is focused on just one project, my back doesn’t hurt, and I am not overwhelmed with toxic fumes and bodily injuries. Nevertheless, my focus is insane. The odds of making it as a writer are even slimmer than they were as a visual artist and writing doesn’t pay nearly as well.
So I have been probing my choices and trying to understand just what is compelling me to go gallivanting off on this adventure. As I am haunted by my dream, I am realizing that who I am is not defined by my career choice. It is defined by my love of learning, the joy of creating, and pushing the limits of my own abilities.
So often we are consumed by our culture’s definition of success, but success is relative to the ambition. For example, let’s say my desire to accumulate wealth is what drives me. Ok. I work hard. I learn, grow, save, and invest. Eventually, I achieve many of my goals. Then what? Once I have learned how to make money, it pretty much makes itself. Now I sit on the high plateau and gaze at the fields below me, savoring a degree of satisfaction for my accomplishment. After awhile, I need to stretch. I pace back and forth. I pick up an object that symbolizes my achievement. I put it down and pace some more. Is that it? Honestly, achievement is great, but it’s the getting there that is juicy and rich.
Stopping to rest on the plateau is ok, but eventually I will need to keep climbing. There’s something up there, some deep mystery or luscious magic in a meadow or rocky crevice, and it is calling me. I’ll get there, but I can pretty much guarantee that the path will not be straight or easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
Long story short, my identity crisis is the result of an inaccurate definition of success. What drives me is my need to create and discover. I love nothing more than wrestling with the insides of my mind, the paths of my heart, and a good challenge. Consequently, this new direction isn’t crazy. It is being true to myself.
How about you? How do you define success?