Anytime I achieved “success,” as defined by society or what I assumed success to be, it sucked. I hated it. It didn’t fit and I was miserable. I remember a grade 5 Halloween costume contest at school. I had spent all my time creating the greatest Darth Vader mask. It was awesome. Problem was, I had forgotten about the rest of the costume, so in a panic I grabbed a garbage bag for a cape, put on black pants and a pair of tall black boots I found in the hall closet. Off I went to school.
In my head, I had nailed it. I was the best Darth Vader, in fact I was expecting a call from George Lucas asking me to consult on the next movie. Recess came and there I stood, a dark figure in a sea of princesses, off-green Hulks and tinfoil wrapped robots. The judges walked up and down assessing the store-bought or hand-made costumes until the announcement was made. I had won! Success! Until reality hit and I became the kid who showed up to school in his mother’s leather boots and a garbage bag cape. WAIT! Where were the accolades? The adoration? Success was not what I expected.
If we think about it, success is a word that means different things to different people. I had fallen into society’s definition of success: the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like… blah blah blah…
SNORE! Maybe that was the problem, success seemed boring. Where do you go from there? You spend so much time trying to attain success, once you achieve it, the drive is gone. What’s next? And by the way, success has a shelf life. A short one. Your monster will soon appear with a turned-up lip and say, “Yeah, but what have you done lately?” Your monster is an asshole and a major buzz-kill.
A more recent example would be when I was named a “40 under 40”. What an honor! My parents couldn’t contain themselves and that alone made me very happy. The evening of the awards ceremony, I remember being so excited and nervous but most of all proud. As I sat at my VIP table, I listened to each of the other winners being announced and their achievements listed. I began to sink in my chair. I got that prickly feeling in the back of my mouth and my right leg began to shake. “There’s been a mistake,” I thought. “I can’t be one of these people. I’m a total fraud. I can’t balance a check book. My cash flow is shit.” This is not going to end well… (My monster was my “plus one” apparently) What was supposed to be an amazing evening celebrating my success had become filled with anxiety. Not from being in front of people but the fear of being exposed. I didn’t deserve this. I achieved success and hated it!
I needed to figure out why. What the hell was wrong with me? Success should feel great, right? High fives, confetti cannons and popped champagne! So, why was I unsatisfied? Well, aside from the lack of champagne and confetti cannons, it just felt empty. I needed to understand “success”.
You have to create your own definition. What do you want from life? What is your champagne moment? Maybe it isn’t a big award or degree, millions of dollars or a fancy car.
Success to me became much simpler. It’s the freedom to take my two sons out for dinner, drinks and a movie without worrying about my bank balance. It’s about family.
If I knew that there was always discretionary money available after paying for my living expenses, I had achieved a level of success. Something to celebrate! Maybe not popping bottles of overpriced champagne but grabbing an ice-cold beer from the fridge. Maybe I’ll shake it up for the same effect?
In the end, you need to define what success means to you. In my book “The Frankenstein Condition” there is a chapter called Celebrity Skin. In it I talk about the cult of personality and the trap of seeking someone else’s definition of success. Your monster loves the word “success’ because it is built on envy and comprised of pieces of other “successful” people. Stitched together like Victor’s abomination. It is the skin that our Frankenstein monster wears and it doesn’t fit.