Chasing Success

“With your mathematical aptitude, you should consider a career in accounting.” My guidance counselor has called me in for an interview concerning my post-secondary plans.

You should be the Treasurer for a large corporation, I hear my father echoing.

“I am not interested in math.”  Blunt.

The counselor leans back in his chair, drops his pen, and runs his fingers through his thinning hair.

“And what would it be that does interest you?”

“Children.  I want to work with children.  I was thinking maybe as an Early Childhood Educator.”

He picks up my report again.

“Your grades indicate you can do much better.  How about psychiatry?  This aptitude test you completed also suggests this is a good field for you.”

“Maybe, but I’d rather be a teacher.”

“Not many people have your academic capabilities.  You can potentially be very successful.”

I can feel myself shutting down.  How many times have I been through this?

* * *

I am eight years old, and the school has called my parents for a meeting with the teacher, Principal, and a woman from the Board office who has been conducting tests.

“We want to accelerate your daughter,”  the woman explains.  “Testing shows that she is gifted, and we believe her educational needs would be better served by sending her to a different school, where she will be with peers of her intellectual equal.”

I sit in the room, like a fly on the wall, and listen as the adults passionately discuss my future.  The educators clearly have the upper hand – they are talking about what they know.  My uneducated parents (neither attended school beyond grade eight) are clearly out of their element – my mother worried, my father not knowing what to think.  He turns to me.

“What do you want to do?”

“Go to the new school.”  It is easy for me.  I am game for adventure.  Success is miles away; not something I need worry about now.

* * *

“We called this meeting to discuss V.J.’s course selection for high school.”

My mother has come alone this time, and as usual, is daunted by the professionals that sit before her.

“What seems to be the problem?”

“As you are aware, V.J. has signed up for Art next year.”

“Yes?”

“I won the Art award this year.”

“That is all well and good, V.J. , but you are an academic student, and while Art has its merits, it is not a course of study recommended for a student of your caliber.  We would like you to consider taking something more in line with your future success.”

I drop Art.

* * *

“What do you want to do with your life?”  my mother asks on the way home.

“I don’t know, Mom.  There is really only one thing I’ve ever wanted and that’s to be married with children.”

“I don’t know, Veej,” my mother shakes her head.  “Men don’t like smart women, and from everything the school says, you could be much more successful.”

“Yeah, and alone, right Mom?”

“Well, I just can’t see who will put up with you, to be honest.”

* * * *

“Why are you here?  Not why are you here in this group, at this moment, but why are you here in University, studying psychology, or whatever other major you have signed on for?  Who are you serving by being here – yourself, or your parents?”

The group is mandatory group therapy, part of our first year Psychology credit.  Lead by a tall pear-shaped woman, with long stringy blond hair, and a gangly young man with a blonde beard.  Psychologists.

The question makes me uncomfortable, because to be honest, I don’t know the answer.

“I used to think I knew what I wanted,” I answer, “but my life feels like it’s always a game of tug-of-war, with me at one end and everybody who knows better at the other.”

“Go on,” the woman encourages.  “Tell us why you feel that way.”

“Well, I feel like there are things I could do with my life, you know, worthwhile things, and at the same time, all I really aspire to is normalcy – if that makes any sense.  I mean, my mother certainly didn’t want me to be here; she thinks it’s a waste of a woman’s time to get an education, but my father, he’s kind of proud of me, and I like that….”   I am rambling, not even sure where I’m going with this.

“My parents want me to be educated,” another student pipes in.  “They say that you can’t be successful without it.”

“But what does that mean?” the lanky leader questions.  “How do you define, success?”

“Exactly,” I continue.  “Are we ever successful when we follow someone else’s script for us?  Or is rebellion the only answer?”

“Rebellion can be self-destructive.”

“No doubt, but if we follow our own path, isn’t that what we are doing?”

“How about you?” the woman turns the conversation over to another, and before I can speak further the class is over, but the questions linger with me.

They linger on into the next week and the week after that, and by April, I have made my decision:  I am not here for the right reasons.

I drop out and get married.

And ‘success’, or any concept of success becomes even more elusive.

Divorce follows within two years, and I realize that maybe my mother was right:  maybe I am not loveable.

I jump in again, this time more committed; this time bearing three children and feeling a semblance of completion.

And it ends, and I am alone again, and broke and struggling, and I begin to wonder if others really did know what was best for me after all.  And as a divorced mother of three, I definitely know that had I pursued higher education and a more suitable career the struggles would be lessened, and I would at least have financial security.

I never really have defined success for myself, apart from wanting happiness, and maybe this has been the problem.

What is your concept of success?

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