“As I sit here in my 30s, I look back and see that I’ve spent most of my life trying to measure up. Competition can be healthy. It can certainly make you stronger, but sometimes, sometimes, it feels like our focus can be clouded with winning that we forget something pretty unique, pretty profound. Does anyone feel like we’re swimming in a world of always trying? Trying to ride the waves and stay on top.
Make the team.
Get the A’s.
Land the degree.
Land the job.
Then land the promotion.
Collect the titles.
Make the money.
Save the money.
Meet the status.
Land the guy.
Land the girl.
Check off the bucket list before the hour-glass fills.
Build the picket fence.
Then find the bigger house.
Lose the weight.
Fight the wrinkles.
Fit the profile.
Make the world happy.
Wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. Make a bigger pot of coffee, you’re going to need it, right? Just writing that list has me worn out. Whether we want to or not, it is expected that we are all placed here to win, to achieve greatness, to come out on the other end with a success story. The pressure to do so can be suffocating at times. I have a good job. I’ve done some amazing things with my writing career. How dare I complain. I’m blessed beyond measure. But some days, like Cyndi Lauper made a detour and went country, I want to make a detour and go schedule-less, routine-less, expectation-less, checklist-less, even goal-less (just sometimes).
I want to drive to a place that doesn’t exist instead of on my usual Monday through Friday highway. A place where I don’t feel like I have to measure up every day, a place where I don’t think I have to win every day. But since that place doesn’t actually exist, I only have one other option: go there in my mind. Maybe I just think I have to measure up to be successful. Maybe I just think I have to be liked or chosen to be successful. Maybe I just think I have to lose weight to be attractive. Maybe I just think I need a man to make my heart whole. Maybe I just think I have to land a book deal to say to myself, ‘I made it.’ Maybe I just think I need to win in order to actually win. Or maybe, maybe not winning can actually be me winning. Stay with me. I confuse myself too.
Back when I was 28, I felt like I won the award for biggest failure. Yes, 28! I was sitting in my bedroom one night, jobless, single and completely unfilled. I danced with my pity that night and we killed it. Poor Felicia. I can’t find a job that I love, or a guy. I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree (and countless friends kept telling me I needed one). Yet I had an interpreting degree, an interpreter’s license and a broadcasting diploma. When will it ever be enough? (It never will.) When I was 20, I graduated from broadcasting school. Nearly a decade later, I sat up at 2 in the morning that same night trying to send that dusty broadcasting demo CD turned MP3 file out to random radio stations. I was reaching high, maybe too high for some. My experience was void. I interned at a few broadcasting stations during my broadcasting school days, but I never took the experience seriously enough. I was a kid. Some days, I still feel like a kid. Yet, I was trying hard to leave my mark on the world. To achieve something. To collect accolades in my little glass bottle, stuffing as many as I could in it, because I needed to prove something to myself. I needed more figuratively and literally and all because the world’s clock was ticking. That’s why I needed more. To show the world something. The world’s clock became Felicia’s clock. If we don’t follow the world’s timeline of when we need to have it all, we are somehow labeled as late bloomers. We are somehow not successful. Talk about deception. You are your own story, friends. You are your own story. Put that on repeat like a classic ACDC record because some things you just can’t hear enough of.
So, I sat in front of my computer that night with nothing to offer. I just had a desire for more. I always wanted more for myself but never knew how to get it. To this day, I still want more. It’s okay to want more. There’s something to be said about not sitting complacent on your circumstances. When we want more, we get things done. We take risks. We set goals and reach them. All good stuff. My problem with wanting more is that we often forget that not having more means we are losing, we are failures, we are not as good as the next person who has ‘more.’ More. More. More. A word I’m tired of putting on repeat. Play the ACDC instead.
So, after that night of networking, and hoping, things started to change. I didn’t plan to get into writing, but that’s where I ended up. My life took an unexpected trajectory and before I knew it, I was 28 and a success (I roll my eyes as I write that line.) I was interviewing stars like Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, and many more (not rolling my eyes on this one). I was writing their stories. My work was being published in magazines too. According to the world, family and friends, I finally arrived. I finally did something with my life. I finally etched my own path. I was winning.
But what the world doesn’t tell you about success is that it will never be enough. You will always compete for more and if you don’t have more, you feel like you are failing again. What the world doesn’t tell you about success is while it is a blessing (that I will always appreciate), it is not what defines you or me or anyone else. It is not where your self-worth is poured from. It is not what constitutes you as an accomplished soul. It is just not. Don’t get me wrong, I will never take for granted every opportunity that makes up my life. I cherish every interview I have ever done and will do, every story I have ever written and will write. This goes deeper.
This is about not thinking you have to win the world’s game every time to be happy, to garner the big check next to your name that says you made it. Because as much as I’ve won in my life, I’ve lost. Oh, have I lost. Not just lost but failed with an F so big it covers my state of Ohio. Maybe that’s a little dramatic but when you feel like your world is over, you feel like your world is over and no one can take that feeling from you. You just have to bleed for a minute.
I was dropped by a magazine column. When I turned in my first story, the editor told me I was a better writer than her. When I turned in my next two, I was told I missed the mark. In an instant, I was gone. Success is sneaky. Here today, gone tomorrow. Another time, I wrote a story on a high-profile, very famous person that was greatly disliked by the person’s publicist. I’ve been told no too many times to count. But to paint a robust picture, I’ve also been told yes. I have also been applauded and complemented by stars and publicists. One even asked me to write his next book. I don’t write this to boast. I can see the comments pouring in now. She’s conceited. She needs to get over herself. Felicia. Felicia. Felicia. It’s okay, even I get sick of myself too.
I write this to only share my heart. To only give, even just one person, the words I needed and still need. The words of: Winning doesn’t define you. Losing doesn’t define you. You don’t have to wake up and try to win anymore. Surrender. You can still lose. You don’t have to tie your life story and your worth to what the world says like I sometimes do when some people don’t like what I write.
If the world says you’re great at something, great. If the world drops you faster than you drop that burning plate you took out of the microwave, bare-handed, because you didn’t have a potholder near, great. Void the noise. Void the standards. Learn from your mistakes, of course. Cherish the moments when you felt you did well, of course. But don’t wake up every day to win a worldly war. Wake up every day to the best you can for you. What are your standards? What does your timeline say?
Don’t tread through this life trying to get the world’s approval. I speak not only to you but to myself. I needed to hear these words today and that’s what inspired this story. Don’t tread through this life trying to check off a list. Don’t wish you had this or wish you did this. Regret can be your friend. Regrets simply mean you lived. Find a way to know that no matter what you do or don’t do, no matter what they say or don’t say, you are enough. You did enough. Another person will never validate what you bring to this world. A piece of paper won’t either. A job title? Forget it. One time, someone judged me for not being at the same job for years like they have been. One time, someone judged me for not getting a 4-year degree when I was supposed to, before 25. Many times, someone has judged me for being overweight. For living a privileged life and never going without. Never having to struggle because my mom made sure we had everything we needed and then some. One time, someone made me feel so pathetic that I couldn’t find one reason to like myself. I didn’t meet that person’s standards, let alone the world’s standards.
Do I find pity in all of this? No. I find learning. I find peace. I arrive at the realization that I will never be enough for the world, or for every person that reads my stories. But I can be enough for me. And you can be enough for you. And together, while we are living against each other, while we are all competing and judging, we are somehow still one because we have a common ground: to live for ourselves.
We get lost in the era of crushing goals and proving others wrong that sometimes we crush ourselves. We even crush others along the way. Let’s crush the idea that we need status, that we need accomplishment, that we need everyone’s approval. We can have it and appreciate it, but we don’t need it. Today, I feel like trading in my need for more for compassion. Trading it in for kindness. Let’s set a new standard. A standard that my story can be my story and your story can be your story and whatever that story is or isn’t, it is enough.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Felicia Naoum, 31 of Parma, Ohio. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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