Billboard Wisdom

July 23, 2007 at 8:48 pm 3 comments

A local water company likes to post words of wisdom on their freeway-side marquis billboard. This weekend, the marquis read:

“SUCCESS HAS MADE A FAILURE OF MANY.”

The quote got me thinking. It reminds me of Harvard’s Success/Failure Project, for which they ask well-known alumni and faculty to tell stories of their most “sorry success” (or their “favorite failure”), the idea being to show nail-biting overachiever students that perfectionism is not necessarily in the best interest of their growth or mental health.

I’d say my most sorry success was landing a job at a consulting firm right out of college. Following the lead of my overachiever classmates out of our East Coast university, this kind of gig was the thing to do, the measure of success. After just a few weeks, I knew the corporate consulting world was not for me. (Actually, I’d always known it, but those times when we lose sight of ourselves are often our most sorry.) The fact that my early 90’s suede, fringed boots didn’t fly among the D.C. navy suits tipped me off right away.

I lasted a few months before growing anxiety, weight gain, and staying in bed all day with my journal during a snowstorm finally woke me up. I jumped ship for a fellowship at a non-profit PR firm, then it took me a couple more career and life steps to get back on track to the writing and creative work that feels most authentic to me, back to health and sanity, and back to my heart’s home of California.

I missed out on certain freedoms and explorations post-college, jumping into this big-city, pressure-cooker world of work so fast. However, I’m still glad I did it because it reminds me to be true to who I am, not who others want me to be, and also that I can always get back on track if I stray. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it reminds me that I had and have choices, and I am where I am because I choose to be. (I also fully realize how fortunate I am to have such choices, and, as I discuss in my welcome post, how loaded the concept of choice can be!)

For me, though, this particular sorry success was a defining moment in my career path. I had begun to figure out something crucial: what I am willing to sacrifice and what I need to feel myself. Corporate suits and corporate salary ultimately did not work for me (and I know this for sure, because I tried corporate one other time on this winding career path — better the next time, but still not it). What works for me now is more creative freedom as a freelancer (and creative necessity, without a corporate salary!), more time with family (and the right family for me), and a simpler lifestyle. Ahhhhh. I’m much happier here.

Of course, it took many, many more missteps, backsteps and forward steps — more sorry successes and favorite failures, including several up-and-down years in academia — to get here, which I’m sure I’ll discuss in future posts. But, each step has led me to this freelance writing/training/brain-never-off business, this marriage to a still-surprises-me surfer/teacher I’ve known since adolescence, this motherhood to an enlightening-every-day girl, this web of complicated and gratifying relationships with family and friends, and this little life in this little townhouse three miles from the Pacific in a sleepy beach town.

In short, a sorry success, turned to failure, can be a critical life lesson — and a great step toward liberation.

So, Readers: What’s your sorriest success story?

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Entry filed under: Career, Success/Failure.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abby Green  |  August 1, 2007 at 12:07 am

    “Sorry success” — what an interesting way of putting it! Here’s mine: After years of struggling in low-paid editorial jobs, I landed a position at “the Harvard of Internet companies” (at least, that’s what they told me in my interview!) Well, the hefty paycheck and hip office came with a hellish commute, bitter office politics, and very little actual writing. I quit after a year to freelance. I make half the money but am 10 million times happier!

    Reply
  • 2. lifeinthegravy  |  August 1, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Megan.. I love where you are going with this! We live in a society that often reminds us of what we don’t have.. and tells us we need bigger, better and more.. of EVERYthing. I am interested in exploring ways to foster a mentality of abundance rather than lack.. of appreciating and loving what we already have. I see you doing this here.. I will check back often!

    Reply
  • 3. Keli  |  August 1, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    My sorriest success story was that I wanted to be an attorney in the entertainment biz. I got my wish. But I also grew to be dreadfully unhappy. Everyone around me was paranoid, insecure, egotistical and not exactly the most pleasant of humans. I’m afraid I wasn’t too much better myself.
    A few years later when I went on maternity leave, I never went back; I am now in my 18th year of leave and oh-so-happy. I do not miss the people or the work. But I do miss the paycheck. It’s a tradeoff that I believe was worthwhile. It also gave me a chance to hang with those I really love and pursue a career I really enjoyed: writing!

    Reply

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You are visiting "Having Enough (In a Have-It-All World)"...

Blog Mission

To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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