Monday, September 3, 2012

The Ever-Changing Definition of Success - UPDATED

The one piece of running Found Beauty Studio that I can never put my finger on is what I consider "success" to be.  Is it an arbitrary financial goal?  Is it a particular lifestyle achieved?  Is it some level of recognition from outside sources?  I honestly don't know. 

I've lived with bouts of severe anxiety and depression for most of my life.  It's not something I usually share publicly and many people who know me professionally would be surprised by it.  My inner circle of amazing and supportive friends and family know (kind of a hard thing to hide, long term), but other than that I've kept it to myself, mostly just disappearing for a few weeks at a time from society until I can muster the energy to leave my house again.  I've hidden it out of shame and stigma.  It's only been in the last few months that I've finally come to understand that I have nothing to be ashamed of.  My brain operates with a different level of chemicals than other people's do.  It's not my fault and the stigma can go to hell.  I have it well controlled thanks to medication and behavioral therapy so that it doesn't keep me from living a full and rich life, and I consider that successful.  I'd like to thank people like The Bloggess and John Moe for showing me that honesty can be extremely freeing. Hiding it keeps me sicker and makes others who also struggle feel more alone.  Screw that.

It does mean, though, that the traditional definition of American success - status achieved by money and power - is often at odds with the reality of my life.  I'll admit that part of me really wants that status.  Part of me wants to be seen by society as successful, with a job that demands respect and creates lots of expendable income.  Part of me wants to be traditionally normal.  But when I have anxiety attacks that keep me from walking into an unstructured social situation without wanting to vomit and burst into tears, and a need to be able to set my own schedule because working 9-5 behind a desk sets off my depression like nothing else, the traditional office job is just not for me.  I keep trying, and keep realizing it over and over again that I do not fit into that mold.  And then I feel like a failure and a loser for not being able to do what others seem to excel at, and I go down that rabbit hole of depression and shame and self-loathing.  And the guilt.  Holy moses the guilt about not having to wake up to an alarm is excruciating.  Sounds great, right?  Bet you're a little jealous right now.

So here I am, thinking about success.  Found Beauty Studio is not a cash cow.  I think anyone who runs a small art business will tell you the same.  The average salary for an independent craftsperson in America is a whopping $13,000 a year.  That's $4,000 less than you'd make working full-time at minimum wage.  I'm fiercely independent when it comes to being able to take care of myself, so the economic reality of falling short on income kills me.  I am married to an absolutely amazing and caring partner who supports whatever I do, and yet I've just begun to be comfortable after 5 years together with the idea that the income we bring in is "our" money, not my money and his money separately, and that he doesn't give one hoot how much I make.  I've been pretty proud of the fact that our salaries were comparable for most of our years together, even when I was completely miserable in my job, and now I have to wonder why.  We're not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we own our house (well, the bank owns most of it), we have no debt outside of our mortgage, we have savings, we own our cars, and we have health insurance and retirement funds.  I think it's time for me to stop obsessing about the amount of income I contribute.  Perhaps the amount of money I earn should not be so deeply tied to my self-worth.  If I keep that as a measure, Found Beauty Studio will never make me "successful".

I think what I'm going to aim for as a measure of success for the next few months is to wake up without dreading the day.  I want to wake up and feel like the next 24 hours are full of promise and not torment.  I want to stop feeling guilty about setting my own schedule and apologizing for the times I feel fulfilled.  I want to stop hating myself for enjoying creating full time.  I want to embrace the positives of running an art business and not continually obsess over the pitfalls.  In short, I want to be happy. 

UPDATE: I'd like to thank the flood of people who have reached out to me with their own stories in the last few days.  I'm awed that so many of us have the same struggles, and saddened that so many of us feel we have to hide them.  To all of you who suffer in silence, please NEVER hesitate to contact me.  I know what it's like to feel completely alone even when you're in a room full of people.