Middle School, Jury Duty, Cliches and Success

Lately I’ve been thinking about a lot of things that come with being an adult. Paying back loans, investing, health insurance, rent, and that ever elusive “five year plan”. In the midst of all this I’ve been circling around the question of what exactly success looks like to me.

Is success power, or money? Influence? Title? In reality I think most people come to the conclusion that success is not something that can be tangibly measured.

For me, I think that success is defined by happiness. But this concept isn’t any less elusive than the concept of success itself. Happiness doesn’t necessarily mean that you walk through life in a state of euphoria, to look for that is to end up chasing cheap thrills and quick highs. Impulse buys, and bad decisions. Expecting happiness to be a state of EVERYTHING IS AWESOME a la Lego Movie is ridiculous.

So what is happiness? How do you get there?

If you ask me (and you didn’t, but you’re here reading anyways) happiness is built on the freedom of choice.

Happiness has highs, and lows, and stress, and exhaustion. Happiness is the ability to throw your self into something full force. Happiness is knowing when to engage and when to pull back, and feeling like the elements of your life are in your control.

Think back to middle school. Most middle schoolers I know detest school, or at least claim to. Do 12 and 13 year olds really hate learning? Do they really hate being with their peers for 6 hours a day? I would venture to say no… but I think most people DO hate feeling that they are being forced to do something. When you have no control over the events of your day, its easy to resent the thing that takes that control away.

Think forward, what are the things that are most upsetting to adults? Not responsibilities that we have chosen to take on. If you volunteer for a project at work, or to help planning a charity event, or to fund raise for a cause, its almost fun. You take pride in what you are doing, how you have chosen to spend your time and the responsibility that you have taken on.

But conversely, think about how you feel about a demanding boss, or being summoned to jury duty. Frustrated. Grumpy. Disgruntled. Not Happy. These things take away your ability to chose what to pursue and how to spend your time.

So what about when life throws you a set of circumstances that take away your ability to choose? There are all sorts of situations in which you have exactly zero choice. Sometimes things just happen. According to this theory, how can you be happy when life plays you a bad card?

Well I would venture to say that no one is happy when they get dealt a bad hand (excuse all the playing card allusions lately). But you CAN find happiness in how you choose to respond, what you choose to do next.

So in the spirit of being young and naive and optimistic, here’s a cliche. Maybe life really IS what you make it. Success is determined by your own definition, and happiness is quite literally, in your control.

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Six of Hearts.

Myself and a few co-workers went out to dinner to celebrate someone’s birthday. Our reservations weren’t until 8:30 and as such, by the time we finished we were one of the last remaining tables. At the end of the meal the waiter spent a few minutes chatting with us.

He explained that he has worked as a waiter in that particular restaurant for 11 years and served over 500,000 people. (“Half a million if you didn’t know what that means.”) At this point, he’s developed the skills to understand his customer and what it will take to “elevate their dining experience two or three octaves.”

As a table we remarked on how impressive it was, and I blurted that it would be a great skill to have in sales.

He scoffed. “Sales. Let me tell you something about sales”

He pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and scrawled something on it. He put the paper face down on the table and put a plate on top of it.

“Think about a deck of cards…. there are four suits: hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades, two colors: red and black, numbers and face cards.”

“Choose a color, black? Right, and that leaves red? Yes?” Yes. “And there are two red suits. Hearts and Diamonds. Choose one. Hearts? OK. Now there are face cards and numbers. Pick one. Numbers? OK. High or low? Low. Got it. SO, six or eight. Eight? So that leaves six of hearts right?”

The waiter moved the plate and I flipped over the piece of paper revealing a 6 scrawled inside of a lopsided heart.

“Now see, I can sell you anything if I can lead you to it and make you think that its what you chose.”

The waiter went on to say, “Now ladies, I have a daughter just about your age, and I’ve told her time and time again, if I can make you believe you chose the six of hearts, a guy can make you believe that you chose to go home with him.”

Whoa. That got really real, really fast. But he was right, if you don’t know what you want, if you haven’t made a choice, someone else will choose for you. And they will lead you straight to the Six of Hearts.