So, wait. If my youngest sister is not the unsuccessful sister, and my middle-little is also successful–then that would leave…
That’s right! My name is Mrs. Fi, and I have been deemed “unsuccessful” by my oh-so-honest and friendly coworker! Let’s rewind a bit.
If you saw our most recent post, you know that last month I traveled to Texas to watch my middle-little sister graduate from college. She worked five, grueling years to become an architect by working late nights into early mornings. Her major requires hours of studying and building models. Additionally, students pursuing this degree are not allowed to have a job while going to architecture school during their first few years. With her busy schedule, I doubt she could fit a part-time gig into her schedule.
But now, after years of debt built up and little to no money left, she has a job right out of school. This is great, given the fact that roughly half of her fellow graduates have jobs lined up. Her story is a story of success – not only in the academic world, but also in the professional world.
Then there’s my little-little sister. She is currently attending college in Texas — these girls are all about going back to our family’s roots to become a nurse. She’s always been a people person and actually seems to enjoy dealing with people and their physical illness (more power to her – I’ll be over here next to the hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes). And she’s really good at it! She just tested into the 80th percentile in the country with her last nursing test.
Turns out, I might be unsuccessful
I’ll set the scene:
It was a beautiful Spring day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and my coworkers and I decided to walk a couple of laps around our office building to admire the wildflowers before heading to our next meeting. I took in a deep breath of the fresh, cool, Montana air before offering up the first topic of our walk.
Me: “Well! I’m about ready to head down to Texas for my sister’s graduation this weekend! Mostly packed and ready to go, just a few other things to take care of.
Coworker: Oh yeah, what’s your sister going to be after she graduates again?
Me: An architect.
Coworker: And what did you say your other sister was going to be?
Me: A nurse.
Coworker: Oh…so what happened to you?
Me: What do you mean?
Coworker: Well it sounds like they’re both going to be rich and successful and you work here…so…
Me: So I’m unsuccessful because I work here? You know YOU work here too, right?
Coworker: Yeah, but I’m the ‘success story’ in my family!
Me: Well, alright then. Good for you.”
There you have it. According to my coworker, I am the least successful of my siblings. And, by the tone of his voice during that lovely chat, I’m certain he believed that if he were to ask my parents about their children they would say something like: “Well, we have two daughters that we are SO proud of…and then there’s our oldest. Not sure what happened with her.”
Yes, although I was working for a well-known company that prides itself on being difficult to get into, when comparing my job to the jobs which my sisters would soon be acquiring, I apparently took the route of slacker. The underachiever.
Time for a social experiment
Instead of getting mad, I was simply intrigued. Sure, the way he expressed his feelings was without tact and seen as downright rude by my other coworkers. But that didn’t concern me — I’ve never taken to heart what other people said or thought of me. I have, however, always been fascinated in the ‘why’ of what people say or think. His comment got me to thinking — was he the only one who felt this way or did most people feel this way? Was I seen as unsuccessful simply in comparison to my sisters? Or was I seen as unsuccessful in general because of my schooling choices and current job?
Little did he know, my coworker had set my brain into experiment mode. With my sister’s graduation at hand and the inevitable, “so what are you doing now” questions from family and friends sure to come up, I started paying attention to people’s reactions to my answer. Nerd-mode initiated.
Note: This mission to decide how others react to my success vs. my sisters did not steal my focus or anyone else’s from my sister’s accomplishments – I made sure of it. Not one person was aware of my observation and will never know unless, by some stroke of chance, they happen to read this blog post and know who I am. There is no jealousy here. I am proud of my sister and her achievements and no comparison made by others is going to shake that.
I’m not going to go into too many specifics, but here is a summary of the reactions during my time in Texas and the following weeks:
1. People are, for the most part, very good at not showing how they really feel about something if they think it will hurt your feelings. If I wasn’t looking for sincere reactions, I wouldn’t have noticed some of the telltale signs of people’s true feelings about my answers to their questions.
I did receive a pat on the back after telling one person what I do for a living…still trying to decide if that was a pity pat or just a friendly pat.
Another lady I talked to asked me about my sister’s future, then about my current job situation. Finally, she asked if I was thinking about going back to school. So I chalked that not-so-subtle hint up to her thinking I was “unsuccessful” and the answer to my “problem” is more school. I probably could have taken school more seriously while I was in it–all that gallivanting around Europe and Central America can do the brain harm.
2. Overall, my peers were much less concerned with my job status than people my parent’s age and older. When they asked me what I do for work, the sense that I got was they don’t see my job status as anything to be concerned about. They thought of my job as “my job for now,” not “my job forever.” Whereas when my mother’s friends or older relatives asked, I got the distinct feeling that they were under the assumption that I had “made my bed” with my school and job choices.
This all makes sense given how differently each of these generations views how our jobs fit into our lives. For my generation, staying with one company more than five years is a rarity. For my parent’s generation, I know many people who have been with their companies 15+ years. So for them, choosing a job is choosing a large part of your life. Scary.
3. People will always be less impressed by a job they don’t know or understand. For instance, I could say I am a farmer and be a very successful farmer. I could run my own company, make more than enough money to live well, and travel when I like. But people would never see me or any farmer in the way that they’d see a lawyer or a doctor. It takes years of schooling (and loads of money) to enter that elite group of money-makers. Even if the people in this elite group aren’t super successful, they’re still a cut above the rest because of societal dictation.
Everyone views success differently
For my coworker, success was having a well-known job title or making more money than others. For my sister, success was graduating from college with a degree in a field she cared about and obtaining a job right off the bat. And for her, the debt she accrued (see: mountain) was just a small price to pay to reach her goal of “dream job.” If I were her, the debt would take the fun out of the equation. However, our minds and goals are different, so she doesn’t view it the same.
For me, I found success in college by studying abroad twice and graduating nearly debt free. I find success in my job by being good at it. My job pays me enough money to save for early retirement, have killer insurance, and the flexibility of working at home two days a week. I may never make as much money as my sisters, but that’s not my goal. My goal is freedom from work.
Comparing others’ success to your own is a game no one wins. I’m not going to say I never do it, but I realize it’s a silly way of thinking. It’s like comparing happiness to happiness. If two people are happily living different lives but they are happy, is one person’s happiness more valid than the others? Is the other person’s happiness less valid or real because they found happiness off the beaten path? Whether you’re a farmer who found happiness growing and selling your fruits of labor, or a student aspiring to greatness but may not want the success others expect of you, don’t sell yourself short. Just because someone else may not understand your life pursuits doesn’t mean they are unworthy. In the end, you decide what success is anyway.
How do you view success?
Do you think you’re successful? Do you ever envy others’ success? I’d love to know!