I confess that whenever I come across news or photos of someone’s eventful career path especially those that take place overseas – bonus pangs for those being places I’d once lived in or visited – I wonder if I could have had that chance had I decided differently for myself. I like to think this is less about feeling insecure and more about my haunting road not taken – that darn ‘what if’.
But I also confess I’d failed to recognize, up until recently, my extremely limited and narrow definition of what ‘successful’ means. Because I’m raised by a mother who defied odds throughout her life and career – from putting herself through school as a schoolgirl to rising up to one of the highest positions in academia that a woman of her time could – it took me a long time to undo my nurtured perception of a successful woman. A woman, in my eyes, is successful only when her professional worth is acknowledged. What I’d failed to understand (this that Eldest Sis has long tried to offer as an alternate perspective) is that in truth, ‘successful’ isn’t always large and grand; top of the food chain or pyramid. ‘Successful’ could be about becoming that Somebody, but it could just as meaningfully be about becoming a person of worth and value to another person or small group. Or to oneself, if one is one’s harshest critic.
I’m writing this from my room in small-town Miri in the heartland of Borneo, in my extremely small, local life where there’s really only 2 main seasons: hot and extremely hot (today it’s the latter). Life here is, as I like to think of it, sedentary. My other life in PJ/KL, where I divide my time, is extremely familial and familiar to the point there’s nothing but home to wax poetic about. In other words, none of the glitz and glamor of the world’s cities’ skylines or lush architectures that often fill my newsfeed from friends. Where I am at work right now as well, to be frank I don’t know if there’s security and beyond that, if I’ll make it ‘big’ in the corporation as how my younger self would naively envision her adult self to be – confident and thriving. The reality is these days, I wonder if I’ve to start accepting that I’m not as brilliant as I like to believe I am. Yet at the same time – my heart (of life, as how John Mayer sung it) feels more at ease. Less frazzled and frantic, fears less paralyzing. Root upon roots; mine no longer feels shaky.
A lesson: maybe ‘successful’ simply looks different on each person.
And it doesn’t have to be about having made it elsewhere – as if external validation and one’s own worth are only valid when in foreign land – nor does it have to be about the size of one’s circle of influence and statuses. ‘Successful’ can be small and quiet, deeply personal, like measuring how we’re doing against our own values and aspirations. Maybe ‘successful’ is too, the courage and bravery mustered to land on our decisions; the road we chose to traverse on which thus shaped our today.
(Hey, I’m okay)