Positive steps toward unsuccess

Lately I’ve embraced trying to live a life of unsuccess.


What is unsuccess? I see it as a combination of two things:

1. Not doing what society wants me to do
2. Doing what I want to do

It is not the same as unsuccessful. I chose “unsuccess” to describe what I am aiming for because it hints at the fact that some of the life choices I make will be viewed by society, or others, as unsuccessful. However, the word itself does not actually exist, thus hinting at the fact that what I am trying to do is live life by my own standards, not those of others.

Unsuccess has two dimensions. The first is taking account in a personal way of the big things society expects of its mainstream (i.e. “valuable”) members. Here are some of those things and the implicit assumptions they contain:

  • Women get married and have children, even if it makes them miserable.
  • More money is better, so get a job that makes you enough to buy lots of things, and swallow the stress.
  • Security is ideal, so sacrifice whatever you must in order to have savings.

Here is my personal accounting of the above big things (stress on the personal – everyone will do their accounting differently):

Am I willing to marry or have children when I know I would not be a happy wife or mother? No. Am I willing to live with enormous stress in order to be able to buy whatever society says I should? No. Security – that’s a really tough one for me to give up. But am I willing to sacrifice my peace of mind and lifestyle that makes me happy for such an illusory ideal? No.

Then there is the second dimension, the implicit assumptions of our society, which are more challenging to tackle. Here are two with my personal accounting combined:

  • Time should be productive. Sitting around daydreaming or resting because of a bout of the depression blahs is wasted time because it has not produced anything of merit. (No, it’s not true, take the time to daydream or heal.)
  • Life should be cumulative. If you are not building on things, progressing, and getting better, you are not a success. (No, it’s not true, don’t listen to what others say is successful or not.)

These second dimension things eat away at us subconsciously as we struggle forward. They are constraints on joy and abundance that we do not even always know are there. I fight against these as much as I can. The first step is recognizing them.

Here’s something I did recently that demonstrates what unsuccess looks like in my life: I cancelled my attendance to an international conference in my field, choosing instead to spend my money and time on a trip up to Philly to have a joint birthday party with my longtime best friend, catch up with old friends I haven’t seen in ten years, and begin serious work on revising my novel.

The conference was part of a successful life. Present my (academic) work, make contacts, etc.

The Philly trip was about enjoying myself, healing some heart wounds, and working on something that may be my passion but will never make me any money and may never even see the light of day. In other words, unsuccess.

This wasn’t a decision I made overnight. It was the result of a careful accounting process that I have been undertaking for some time. I made it after a number of related decisions/steps that have borne fruit in terms of helping me create a path to an alternative future. I’m being thoughtful but also brave. I am surveying the land and then taking (little) leaps of faith.

So there you have it, a first post of what I can only assume will be a collection on how I am trying to make my life one that I will be satisfied with when I am doing that final accounting, whenever that may be.

Photograph taken in Costa Rica.


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