If you've read previous blogs on this site or publications I contributed to psychcentral.com, you may notice a theme carried through many of them - the emotional and relational toll we experience from success-driven ways of life. This is an important topic to me, because I see this issue at the root of many surface issues in many of my clients. I also have personal experience with this content.
Again, I argue that striving for success is not only a positive trait, in and of itself, but is something that drives and motivates all of us to some degree. My caution is to those who overshadow the small accomplishemnts they've experienced in their lives in effort to achieve some grandiose acknowledgement.
To look down on the stay-at-home parent who spends each day caring for children and maintaining the household responsibilities is one example of this oversight. Sure, this person may not bring in six-plus digits in income per year or have their name recognized for some great worldwide accomplishment. But, let us take a moment to examine what he or she has accomplished. When one chooses to stay home as a full-time parent or "homemaker," they frequently do so with some sacrifice of their former identity (work, school, etc.) or with great conviction and pride in their choice. Perhaps this role has been their desire, paramount to other choices. Either way, there is likely a reason this choice is made, other than wanting to stay home all day. The responsibilities this person takes on are so that the partner working outside the home can continue to do so at the level needed for their family. Without this person's daily attention to details specific to his or her role, things go undone, and even un-noticed. Things that matter and hold significance for their families. Being present for that school presentation may have made the difference in their child feeling supported enough to get through school. Providing extra support with homework when the coparent is simply exhausted and has nothing left to give, may be what brings a child confidence to stand out in class.
What about single parents, dual working parents, etc.? They also make choices that require sacrifice and dedication. The division of work and family can sometimes be overwhelming, especially for those in stressful or high profile jobs. Sometimes, these individuals feel the need to choose between success in family or success in career. Even when this choice is not in the conscious awareness, its presence is no less influential.
If you're striving to be the best parent over anything else, go be the best parent for your specific child(ren). You do not have to compare your accomplishments to others around you. What you achieve as a parent is relevant and recognized through your children (though maybe not until they are adults and look back in hindsight). If this is your choice, recognize your contribution to your children as success. The neighbor bragging about his/her job, doesn't have to be an invitation for competition.
If you've chosen to focus all of your attention to success in career, go do that. Recognize what you have contributed to your respective field, relevant to your ability and to the impact that may not have been present without you. After all, one idea, action, gesture can change everything. On this path, just be aware of the impact this focus has on your relationships - intimate, familial, children, etc.
Of course, the ideal option is to find balance in both family/relational lives and career lives. We, as human beings, seek connection. The healthiest among us have healthy connection with others, at least in some way. The good news is that we can have both. Marissa Mayor, CEO of Yahoo!, has made waves in her public advocation for success in both career and family.
If you take nothing else from this posting, please remember to acknowledge your accomplishments, not matter how small they may seem in comparrison to those by others or by you. Even the greatest accomplishments started with an idea, an action, a dream. Never having enough leads us to a lifestyle of always wanting more, and sacrificing whatever necessary to get it. I don't mean the intentional, mindful sacrifice mentioned above. No, this sacrifice is more like a thirst for survival. You remove any and all things that appear as an obstacle, later to find that stress is your reward; stress in relationships, stress in career, stress in self-identity. Oftentimes, success is an internal perception. When we project ourselves to be accomplished and accepted, we often find that's what we receive in return. In the world of psychology, it's known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What are some small accomplishments you've made in the last week, that you may not have given much attention to, but wouldn't be the same without?