Rule #39: Accept Your Success (and Lack Thereof) as Your Own Fault

by Rachel on January 13, 2012

Something occurred to me a few months ago when I was thinking about success.

I was thinking about career success and — I’ll be honest — comparing myself to other women my age. And I was thinking about the fact that while my career is going well, there are other people whose careers are most definitely going better. I started to think about all the things I hadn’t done, the success I hadn’t had, and was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

And then it occurred to me that a a lot of the successful people I was thinking about were really nice people. And not like “genuinely kind” nice people, but “played it safe, kissed a lot of ass, pretended to be nice” nice people. People I’d never want to be. And I considered for a minute that if I had done that, I’d probably have achieved their level of success too. It also dawned on me that I got exactly what I had worked for; to me, kissing ass feels like work, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t willing to work hard enough. But at that point, I realized that I had consciously chosen to do things my way, a decision I still stood buy, so I needed to get over the comparison thing. And when I thought of it that way, everything I had achieved — even if it wasn’t the pinnacle of achievement — seemed so much better.

Of course, when it comes to success, some things are out of our control, and you have to stop and think about that so you know when to accept that, yeah, life just said no. But now I know that more often than I probably realize, I need to accept my success and — more important — any lack thereof as a direct result of the choices I’ve made. I mean, I’m proud of myself when I’ve done something well; shouldn’t I have take credit (OK — blame) when I’ve done something that produced less-than-desirable results? In both cases, it’s essentially my own fault.

This came up again when I was talking to one of my good friends a few weeks ago about dating. Now, my friend lives an awesome life, one that many girls would envy. She’s amazing at her job — she got promoted way ahead of schedule and everyone loves her at work — she is smart, funny, healthy, cute, lives in an awesome apartment in a cool city, and has tons of great girl friends. The only thing she doesn’t have is a boyfriend. And that gets to her.

So we were discussing how exhausted she is by dating, and I pointed out  that her dating situation is also a result of the choices she’s made. She chose to have an awesome job and awesome friends even if it meant living in a city where dating is harder; she chose to not settle for guys she’s just “eh” about and chose to not do online dating. These were her choices, choices that she can still look back on and feel good about and feel like she’d make again if she had to. So why be mad at the world for not sending her what she ‘s asking for? It’s basically sent her everything she’s been asking for. But because she chose to do things her way, it might take a little longer for her to get all of them. I have no doubt she will. And I have no doubt that I will or that you will, if you’ve made similar choices.

So this rule is just how I remind myself, when I’m thinking about the things I don’t have or haven’t achieved yet, that I may have played a role in what I’d been thinking of as unfair un-successes. But how my life looks right now probably has a lot more to do with my choices than I think it does, and if those choices mean it takes me a couple more years to get where I want to be…well, keeping in mind that at least I won’t hate myself when I get there helps me stay patient.

And seriously, even the tiniest bit of success earned your way, because of your choices, feels awesome. So so so awesome. I don’t know if it feels better than “success” earned by compromising a huge part of yourself but I’d really rather not find out.

{ 18 comments }

1 Emily January 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I’ve recently come to this realization too! Thank you so much for sharing this ass-kicking insight. It’s just what I needed to read!

2 Lisa January 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Hi Rachel!

When I read this, I was reminded of this article I just recently read:

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/single_by_choice_why_more_of_us_than_ever_before_are_happy_to_never_get_married/page1

It’s a bit long (but worth the read, I think) and discusses that some women choose to be single and find plenty of happiness in that choice.

3 Rachel January 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm

What a great article — thank you for sharing! Will definitely be sharing with all my friends, married or single. (Or complicated.)

4 erin January 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm

very insightful! it really does hit home with me!

5 Samantha M. January 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I don’t know if you’re psychic or just have a knack for good timing; I needed to “hear” this right now. My life is what it is because of my choices (at least what areas I actually have a choice in), and what I’m lacking in my definition of “success” is also due to those choices. It’s so easy to fall into the pity party/blame everyone else trap, and sometimes I need that verbal face slap to snap me out of it. So thank you for your uncanny timing. :)
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6 Sarah H January 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I really enjoyed this article. I feel like you live inside my mind and post everything I need to hear at the right time.

In my circle of friends, my fiancé and I are the blacksheep. Our friends are working toward or have achieved these amazing things — one is an army ranger, the other getting his phd, and others off and about working toward something in their career. And while we have decent jobs, they aren’t exactly what we want. However, we have been able to afford to travel the world, plan a wedding that we are paying the majority of, and are happy. We both keep pushing ourselves, applying to jobs so we can get out of current ones, but some days its hard not to be like “ooooh so and so has it so much better than me!” and then I sit and think, “damn, i’ve got it pretty good.”

We are here because of the choices we made. Thank you for the post Rachel!

7 Parita @ myinnershakti January 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm

After working in “Corporate America” for a few years, I realized the same thing – you can accelerate your career success by kissing ass or you can work hard and be who you are and achieve that same success and more and have it last. Life is all about choices, and as my mom likes to say, you reap what you sow.

8 Alicia from Poise in Parma January 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm

I look back at myself – not too long ago – and felt like I had it all: the man, the house, the dog, the job, the hobby, etc. What I didn’t have: my sanity. And by not having that, I lost my mind, had a breakdown and gave up everything I accomplished in regards to my career to date. Do I regret it? I sometimes miss the accolades that I’d receive after a job/event well done. I’m now rebuilding as I figure out what matters most now. The answers now are different than before but they are what are making me now extremely, insanely happy.
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9 Deva @ Deva by Definition January 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm

This is an awesome post, and I agree wholeheartedly. I am where I am now because of the choices I made. I’m happy where I am, with my cats, The Boy, our house, and everything else I have worked for since graduating college. My path wasn’t conventional, and I am still working out how choices in the past are affecting me today and what choices I can make moving forward, but I am still on a forward trajectory, and I like where I am and where I’m headed.
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10 Sarah January 14, 2012 at 9:05 am

I love this post! I’m a junior in college and have definitely had my fair share of choices that I made for me over the last 2.5 years. I’m happy to say that I would go back and do everything the same way if I had to. Thanks for writing this! It put some things in perspective for me.

11 Summer January 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Great post! I’m regularly down on myself for my lack of accomplishments at the age of 27, especially compared to many others my age or younger, but it really does boil down to the choices that I have made for myself. Some of them have been great; others, well, not so much…but it is what it is and I’m the only one who can do anything about my own success and happiness.

I blatantly refuse to kiss anyone’s ass. I just won’t. I talk to my superiors at work the same way I would talk to any other coworker – just because you’re “above” me doesn’t mean I think any differently of you. If that somehow prevents me from moving ahead in the future, so be it.
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12 Emily January 15, 2012 at 1:20 am

Totally agree. Obviously some things happen that we can’t control, but we control enough that the overall outline of our lives is our doing. It probably seems like a strange reference at first, but I was reading Between a Rock and a Hard Place a little while ago (the story of the guy from 127 Hours who had to cut his own arm off after he was pinned by a boulder in the wilderness) and one line really stood out to me:

“I did get myself into this. Somehow, in some convoluted way, it’s what I’ve been looking for in my life. How else did I come to be here? We create our lives. I don’t fully understand why, but little by little I get that somehow I’ve wanted something like this happen. I’ve been looking for adventure, and I’ve found it.”

I LOVED that. Granted, those are some pretty extreme circumstances, but I’ve chosen a path that also has its fair share of risk — I’m a journalist who has begun freelancing in developing countries and I’m bound to piss off some corrupt politicians and run afoul of riot police at some point or another. It’s a risk I’m willing to take because I believe in what I’m doing. Sometimes I jones for a bit of a more stable existence and a relationship — but then I remember that I get to climb volcanoes, visit ancient temples and bang fascinating foreign men with sexy accents.

I lived in New York for awhile while I was in grad school, and I loved it, but dating there? Ugh. I would often meet guys who would talk about their careers in finance and law, etc. When I asked them if they were passionate about their jobs and they answered, “Well, the money is good,” I’m pretty sure the sound of my panties drying out was actually audible.

13 Caroline January 15, 2012 at 8:36 am

Rachel, I’ve always loved your blog, but lately it’s just been at another level. Keep it up!

14 Rachel January 16, 2012 at 10:41 am

Thank you! I really appreciate that!

15 Kathleen January 15, 2012 at 10:59 am

This posting is just too perfect! Friday afternoon I was told that, for the second time in 6 months, I would not be getting a promotion at work. I’ve had a LOT of frustrations and setbacks at my job lately, but this was the icing on the cupcake. I spent the rest of the day feeling pretty devastated. But now, not so much. I’m going to focus on the things I do great at my job (and, there are a lot) and take a more pro-active approach to working on the things I need to fix. I’m also going to stop being a doormat for my administrators. Most importantly, I’m going to get my s**t together and send applications elsewhere. Do I really want a promotion at a job that makes me this unhappy?

16 Rachel @ Healthy Chicks January 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Rachel, this article speaks to me SO MUCH! We don’t realize that most of the time, what we get (and how successful we are) are directly related to the way we are living our life, and what we realllllly want inside subconsciously.

For instance, after college I moved to Boston, the city of my dreams. I got a pretty cool job, and made a lot of great friends, but a little tiny voice in my head was always like, “When is it my time to get a boyfriend? When’s my time to shine?” I forgot about everything else I’d achieved already. Great friends, a good apartment, decent job, etc.

Then I realized I wasn’t really focusing on ME. I was too busy “looking” and missing out on living my life. Flashforward two years, and now I’m in the best relationship I could have ever asked for, feel healthy and most importantly happier than I’ve ever been. I’m now in school for health counseling (my #1 passion) working a part time job, and at times tend to get down on myself for not having a “real job” or being where other girls my age are at financially/workwise. But then I remember it was my choice, and I’m taking the path best for me. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Great post and wonderful discussion! I wish you lived in Boston… I feel like you’d be the kind of friend to have those really great coffee dates with/talk about life – the good the bad and the ugly ; )
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17 K @ The Chic Teach January 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm

God, Rachel. Seriously?! I literally post every single blog you write and share it with my girlfriends. It’s kinda like each post you write speaks to me a little bit.

I feel like, on a smaller scale, I’m in the position of your girlfriend. So, I will remember and remind myself of what you said: “[...] and if those choices mean it takes me a couple more years to get where I want to be…well, keeping in mind that at least I won’t hate myself when I get there helps me stay patient.”
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18 Bobby January 17, 2012 at 7:37 am

Kind of funny. I was just sitting here at work, bored out of my mind and reading various random Yahoo articles when I decided to take a quick visit here (always cheers me up).

5 minutes earlier, I had wished I had made different decisions in college (ones that involved less alcohol and more books) but I have noone to blame but myself.

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