This morning, I read an article called, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” in the New York Times. What a relief to find that there are others who point out how skewed our culture is towards defining personal success. All we seem to hear about are prizes or “wins”: the Olympic qualifying heats that are broadcast multiple times on TV; the Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prizes, Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, the Oscars, Facebook IPO, Guggenheim Fellowships and the Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress. An example cited in the article was a student who was a “straight-A, piano-playing quarterback.”
Sure, it’s okay to recognize achievement. But the emphasis by the press and our culture on landmark accolades can make the rest of us think, “What am I, chopped liver?” The answer is, nope, even if you aren’t Nora Ephron nor written books, articles, movies and directed movies that everyone recognizes, you can still say something witty and your husband will smile at you while eating dinner, just the two of you .
The NYTimes article focuses on having conversations with your children about success, so that everything doesn’t merit the overused “good job!” when all a kid does is get their fork into their mouth without spilling food. I also think these ideas are valuable for people like us who are baby boomers and beyond in age. For example, when someone retires from thirty-odd years of service in some public domain and is awarded a medal or a service award, that’s nice. But does that also include whether those individuals were generous people with themselves outside of work? You see where this could keep going, don’t you?
I’m not altogether sure of where I stand in all this either. If I were to start making a list of the ordinary things that make up my life, it might include:
a. being adventurous about cooking, and “cooking from scratch,” although last weekend, I had my fill of making homemade Peking Duck wrappers when the coffee cup I wanted to cut the dough rounds out with still had coffee in it and spilled on to the dough. I don’t think anyone noticed if there was the taste of coffee in them after putting on the hoisin sauce, scallions and roast duck, though.
b. being determined and curious: that’s what my husband says are some of my best qualities.
c. being willing to admit to my own mistakes even when it makes me feel bad for awhile. I am always taken aback when people are unable or unwilling to admit to their own mistakes, such as breaking a couple of eggs while carrying the groceries. But, whatever.
d. in the spirit of the article, I could describe myself as a “straight, piano-playing cook.”
Anyhow, I think the Fourth of July weekend is a good time to think about personal independence, and to consider whether it’s possible to release ourselves from cultural ideals that we have to be extraordinary in order to feel worthwhile. Or, as the tagline in the NYTimes article poses, “Isn’t living a life of integrity as praiseworthy as fame and money?”
What do you think?